4 ways to write plays-on-words headlines
When edible marijuana consumption spiked, the Omaha World Herald came up with this headline and deck:
Police say edible forms of pot hit new high
List, rhyme and twist is just one way to come up with a stellar twist-of-phrase headline. Here are four techniques to try:
1. List, rhyme and twist.
Call it list, rhyme and twist:
- Start with a list of keywords from your article. Baking, maybe.
- Find words that rhyme with your keywords. These rhyming dictionaries will help. Maybe you’ll come up with Breaking.
- Find familiar phrases that include those rhyming words. See the phrase resources below. Breaking Bad.
- Twist the familiar phrase by subbing in your original key word. Baking Bad.
When a shortage of telephone numbers required that Colorado residents use area codes on local calls, the Rocky Mountain News newspaper headline substituted a rhyming word into a 1948 movie title:
Sorry, long number
This headline from a New York Times “DataBank” piece covering a blistering (and bearish) week in August played off a familiar phrase:
It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Economy
And eMarketer editors used this approach to create this line to head a story covering Playboy.com:
Silly Rabbit, These Clicks Aren’t For Kids
How can you list, rhyme and twist your way to a winning feature headline? Of course, you’ll avoid groan-worthy punny headlines. But when you use words that sound similar, you can come up with a good pun that’s worthy of the front pages of the New York Post.
2. Switch a vowel.
Copy editors for The Los Angeles Times dropped an “o” from a word to create this headline, an ACES award winner:
A circuit bard for Silicon Valley
Computerese isn’t the only language in the capital of high tech. Today, the ‘Hollywood for engineers’ unveils its first poet laureate
Want to write an award-winning headline yourself? Play with the English language. Try switching, dropping or adding a vowel.
3. Flip a phrase.
When a former aspiring governor from Virginia shifted gears, The Washington Post copy editors came up with this headline:
Now, the oyster is his world
Ken Cuccinelli has shucked off the sting of his Virginia gubernational defeat to find a new venture: Bringing a sustainable source of jobs to Chesapeake’s Tangier Island
One easy way to twist a phrase is to shift the order of the words. When New York magazine covered the story of angry residents calling the MTA’s removal of 81 trees “arborcide,” editors twisted the title of a best-selling grammar book for this headline:
MTA kills shoots and leaves
The Washington Post’s Jim Webster flipped and switched for this headline:
The man who put the mettle in the petal
A basement botanist helped revive the rose
How can you create a new phrase just by flipping the words in a familiar one?
4. Find phrases to twist.
How do you write an award-winning headline like this?
Party like it’s $19.99
Local decorator shows you how to entertain on a tight budget
Adapt titles or lyrics of popular songs, movies, plays, TV shows, ads, company slogans or product names.
And here are some resources to get you started. Plug your key words into these databases to find familiar sayings that include your terms: