All newspaper editors dream of waking up the next morning to find sparkling perfect copies of the issue of their newspapers for the day. No headline errors; no errors in syntax, no proof reading errors; and no evidence that the printer’s devil had played devilish tricks on headline writers and blinded proof readers to the errors staring them in the face. Sorry, life is never meant to be that perfect. They must contend with avoidable errors and face the daily challenge of the long trek towards the Neverland of perfection. So, we have goofs.
Variety is the spice of headline writing. The English language offers us synonyms to avoid using one word more than once in headlines on the same page. Two different stories were promoted on the front page of the Daily Trust issue of January 31. Somehow, the sub-editor fell in love with one word, mulls. He gave us these two headlines: a) “FG mulls 125% import tariff on ‘Tokunbo’ vehicles;” b) “2023: PDP mulls merger, throws open presidential ticket.”
I thought one use of the word was enough. A short trip down the lane to the dictionary would have given the sub-editor synonyms for mull. The Advance English Dictionary and Thesaurus, gives us the following synonyms for the word, mull: chew over, think over, ponder, contemplate, reflect. Each of them means the same thing as mull.
It is said that the American humourist, Mark Twain, so hated punctuation marks that each time he submitted his manuscript to a publisher, he attached a list of this infernal irritants and advised him to place them where appropriate. Punctuation marks are not fun but they make the rules which, if observed in the breach, alter the meaning of sentences. Here is a headline that tried to avoid the use of the apostrophe: “Finding solution to nations security problem.” Nations here is a possessive noun and ought to be so properly treated with the apostrophe. It should be nation’s (if we talk of one nation) or nations’ (if more than one nation). The other problem with the headline is that it a label headline. The subject cannot be properly inferred by the reader.
On page 45, we are asked to respond to a private matter among spouses. The headline says: “When should spouses call it quit?” My advice is that whenever the lovers choose to go their separate ways, they should call it quits, not quit.
Governments feel they must occasionally warn the news media of the consequences of violating the law. The warning is usually delivered to the sonorous sound of chest beating. We found some evidence of this on page 8 of the same issue of the newspaper. The story reads: “The federal government says it is doing well on press freedom. It, however, warned that if newspapers run fowl of the law….”
No newspaper can run fowl of the law; if it is reckless, it would run afoul of the law. The fowl is a familiar home bird and has nothing to do with foul – an infringement by footballers for which the referee penalises them. The reporter was tricked into confusing two different words that have the same sound.
January 2. On page 5 of the newspaper, we found this headline: “Many die, displaced as Niger shivers under banditry.” Those who died could not be displaced. There were two sets of victims of the violence: one set were killed and the second were displaced. The use of the word many is vague. If the reporter had cross-checked with the police or hospital authorities, he would have been given the estimated number of the dead or the displaced. A state under siege by bandits could not be said to shiver. The use of that word trivialised a very serious matter. It is an unpardonable professional recklessness.
On page 28 of the January 1 issue, we found this headline: “Ending discrimination against leprous people.” People suffering from leprosy are called lepers, not leprous people. Here again we have a label headline. Again, without a subject, the headline gives us an incomplete picture of someone or an institution possibly pushing for a more humane treatment of lepers.
Ever heard of “The perils of bridging the employment dots in Nigeria”? Perhaps not. You can find this on page 29 of the same issue of the newspaper. You do not bridge dots, you join them. This is a good example of a meaningless headline.
The front-page promo of a story gave us this headline: Ports’ congestion worsens as overtime cargo hampers operations.” The apostrophe after ports is wrong. The ports cannot be treated as a possessive noun. Ports do not own congestion. It is what happens to them because of the accumulation of overtime cargo. It should be “Port congestion…”
February 9, page 4: “Borno promotes Igbo teacher.” No professional purpose is served by the emphasis on the woman’s tribe. She is there to work and earned her promotion because the state governor appreciated her devotion to duty.
February 1, front page promo: “Abuja green areas turn to dumpsites, toilets.” I am certain that if the green areas had problems, they would not turn to dumpsites and toilets for the solution. What has happened here is that the green areas have been turned into dumpsites and toilets. So, the correct headline should have been: Abuja green areas turned into….”
I found it rather scandalous that the House of Representatives complained last week of lack of fund to carry on with their legislative duties. The Daily Trust published this story on page 6 of its February 10 issue. Here is the intro to the story: “The House of Representatives says it has no enough money to perform its primary functions.” No enough money is colloquial pidgin English and should not have found its way into the newspaper. The headline to the story was “We lack money to work.” It could have been imported into the story itself.
On the same page 6, we found this headline: “Fish economy will boost Yobe revenue – Buni.” There is no such a thing as fish economy. Fishery is part of the agricultural economy. Improved fishing would add more money to the state’s treasury but it does not qualify as fish economy. Or we would be forced to reckon with groundnut economy, cotton economy, palm oil economy, cattle economy, goat economy, etc.
Here is the most meaningless headline found on page 29 of the same February 10 issue: “EFCC recovered properties to rescue FCTA huge expenses on rent.”
A chieftain of APC in Katsina State had cause to deliver this dire warning to his fellow members of the party: “Katsina APC building its own grave – chieftain.” No, people do not build their graves, although the rich may build their special graves. People dig graves. When a party digs its own grave, the expression is metaphorical. It means it is undermining itself with possible grave consequences.
February 8, front page promo: “Why I won’t interfere in Gandjuje/Sanusi fued – Buhari.” It is feud, not fued. The story itself carried the correct spelling of the word.
Here is another label headline found on page 20 of the same issue of the newspaper: “As Kaduna seeks end to killings, kidnappings.” These label headlines are embarrassing and steps should be taken to avoid them.
Danja is one of my favourite Kannywood actors. I was sorry to read on page 36 of the same issue of the newspaper that his studio was closed down by the authorities. The headline to the interview with the actor was: “My studio’s closure unrelated to registration – Danja.” I pointed out a similar error on port congestion. The correct headline should be: “The closure of my studio….”