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A Very Naughty Nation

Posted by Word Camel on March 28, 2002

In Reply to: Re: It's a wonderful game posted by TheFallen on March 28, 2002

: : : : : : : : : From editorandpublisher.com
: : : : : : : : : MARCH 25, 2002

: : : : : : : : : Copy Editors May Be the Most Polysemous
: : : : : : : : : The Phenomenon Of Punny Headlines

: : : : : : : : : By Wayne Robins

: : : : : : : : : NEW YORK -- Headline writers, caption scribblers, and copy editors may be the most polysemous people on Earth. So concludes Valerie Collins, who has a fascinating article about journalism and acts of polysemy in the most recent edition of The Vocabula Review (http://www.vocabula.com), an erudite online journal dedicated to excellence in the English language.

: : : : : : : : : But first: Polysemy? "The phenomenon of having or being open to several different meanings," speaketh Webster. Puns and their cute cousins, paragrams, are vehicles for polysemous expression. "Sidebars, subtitles, leads, and picture captions provide ... opportunities for extended punning," Collins explains mainly in the plain (she lives in Barcelona, Spain).

: : : : : : : : : "Admittedly," she wrote, "the dividing lines between true wit, cleverness ... and groan-induction are fuzzy." It's so much a matter of individual taste that using such tools is really in the I of the beholder.

: : : : : : : : to parrot the conventional wisdom, puns are the lowest fume of hammer, but are puns alone solo?

: : : : : : : There is a tabloid daily newspaper in the United Kingdom known as The Sun. It's the largest-selling daily newspaper by far, owing to its combination of dumbing down the news and showing nubile young ladies in a state of upper déshabillée whenever possible. (Personally I believe it's extremly cunningly executed to work on about 5 different levels, but I'm probably self-deluded). The headline writers there are compulsive polysemists, although rarely clever. However, once in a Scottish soccer match, when Caledonian Thistle (nicknamed Cally, a backwoods semi-amateur team) beat the mighty Glasgow Celtic (champions of Scottish soccer) by a score of 3 goals to 1, the sports headline writers came up with this gem that is so brazenly contrived as to be a real jewel. Half the back page the following morning was taken up with this headline:

: : : : : : : "Super Cally Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious".

: : : : : : LOL! That's a hoot.

: : : : : Just a bit about the 'Sun'. Years ago there was a notice on a board at my daughter's school. It went something like this:
: : : : : The Times: read by people who run the country
: : : : : The Telegraph: read by the wives of the people who run the country
: : : : : The Guardian: read by people who would like to run the country
: : : : : etc
: : : : : etc
: : : : : etc
: : : : : The Sun: read by people who don't care who runs the country, provided she's got big boobs!

: : : : Some background for our non-Brit playmates:

: : : : In Britain (chiefly in England) we play a game you may have heard about in legend: Cricket.

: : : : Basically the rules are one bloke (the bowler) throws a hard leather-bound ball at some other bloke (the batsman) who stands by some sticks. Curiously this game is very popular on the radio. An enormously successful radio commentator was one Brian Johnstone (affectionately known as Johnners) famous for his dry wit and good humour.

: : : : He must have waited years for the day that the cricketers Peter Willey and Michael Holding were playing on opposing teams, for on that day, he got to say...

: : : : "The bowler's Holding, the batman's Willey"

: : : : And then he and his fellow commentators corpsed for a whole ten minutes.

: : : Some writer at Time magazine must have endured a similar wait before being assigned to the Cannes Film Festival and reporting that Albert, prince of Monaco, had been persuaded to attend. The writer said (I'm paraphrasing here, but not by much) "This answers the age-old question of how to get Prince Albert into Cannes."

: : Well, now I finally understand cricket.

: This I doubt, but it's given rise to a number of legendary commentator gaffes, including my two favourites:

: There's Mushtaq having an indiscreet slash outside the off-stump.

: and

: Randall's standing there with his legs apart waiting for a tickle.

: Apologies, but you'd need both a knowledge of cricket and British slang for the above two to make much sense.

Oh sure, it was all just innocent commentary, just like the knockers are what's used to knock on doors.

One of the many outstanding qualities of the Brits, in my humble opinion, is the ability to appreciate the language on many different levels. My rule of thumb... it probably was an intentional double entendre - and even if it wasn't, most Brits will understand it as one anyway!