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When copy editors write terrible headlines

June 23, 2010

“Ra ra oooo la la ….
You and me could write a bad headline…”


Did you know that copy editors write headlines? It’s really hard. Column width, available letters, and point size determine how you will fit the headline to the available lines and sizes. It’s actually quite complicated and really difficult. Sometimes you would have to sum an entire article with three, five-letter words. It’s tough.

We’ve all seen hilarious missteps in headline writing, but this one was just plain disappointing.

A chat:

Courtney: okay. on the nytimes science section there was a link to an article and the text read “Mating Bears and a Wolverine.” what do you think the article is going to be about?
me: either the x-men or a video game or a wolverine who watches bears mate or a cross between a bear and a wolverine, or a wolverbear.
or a bearverine!
Courtney: that’s what i thought too!
it’s just some guy who saw bears mate AND saw a wolverine. i was totally let down.
me: omg that is a terrible, terrible headline.
Courtney: i know. i want a bearverine!
me: that would be AWESOME.

Dream on, fellow science nerds.

92 Comments leave one →
  1. LRo permalink
    June 23, 2010 6:38 pm

    Good thing you learned the truth about wolverines or you would have been REALLY confused about the article.

  2. holly permalink
    June 23, 2010 8:14 pm

    I enyoyed this post.

  3. June 23, 2010 8:52 pm


  4. June 23, 2010 8:54 pm

    I laughed so hard. ❤ Bearervines would be hilarious.

  5. June 23, 2010 8:55 pm

    This was a joy to read. Really funny! I love ambiguous, funny signs, headlines, or anything like that. I like what you have here on your blog too, by the way 🙂

  6. June 23, 2010 8:57 pm

    Great post… Funny picture. However if I had seen something like that in the woods I would have ran for dear life.

  7. June 23, 2010 9:42 pm

    Bearverines… I’m still laughing 🙂

  8. June 23, 2010 9:42 pm

    gotta watch out for bearverine’s arch-nemesis, the le sabretooth… the mating between a 1989 buck le sabre and a sabre tooth tiger…

  9. June 23, 2010 9:43 pm

    Very enjoyable read!

  10. June 23, 2010 10:00 pm

    Perhaps some would find that headline kinky (?!)

    A national forest gift shop near me was selling little stuffed animals that came packaged in little cans. They had various types of animals stacked up in their cans next to the back of the store. The label on each can listed what animal was inside.

    My younger brother (he was about 13 or 14 at the time) found a can that said “CONTENTS: ONE FURRY BEAVER”. I think it took him two weeks to quit laughing.

  11. June 23, 2010 10:16 pm

    Bearverine… It does have a ring to it, doesn’t it? Hahaha!

  12. June 23, 2010 10:32 pm

    Hehehe … LMAO

  13. June 23, 2010 11:50 pm

    It’s great and funny.

  14. Lauren permalink
    June 23, 2010 11:52 pm

    Ha, that’s great. A potential failblog candidate?

  15. June 23, 2010 11:55 pm

    i love to read funny english sign boards across the world too!

  16. June 24, 2010 12:01 am

    Thanks, we could all learn from this, at least to be mindful and to be careful.


  17. barrymanana permalink
    June 24, 2010 12:08 am

    Is it some weird bears-on-wolf action thing?
    Not quite as classic as: “Nut screws washer and bolts”, but a nice post.

  18. June 24, 2010 12:25 am

    Something of a fail in the abstract, but a hed that made you look.
    Kinda like yours on this post.
    Hope the folks who clicked the Times hed got as much as we who clicketh here did. Thanks for this piece of your life.

    P.S. I hope you’re letting those eHarmonites taste your humor.

  19. June 24, 2010 12:33 am

    You had a point. I like this post. LOL.

  20. June 24, 2010 12:57 am

    relaxing moment! source

  21. June 24, 2010 1:00 am

    This is really funny. Well, I agree, you’re right about one point: its really tough to pick three or five words to sum the whole article.

  22. shiffadubai permalink
    June 24, 2010 1:23 am

    Nice post brought a smile on my face

  23. June 24, 2010 1:26 am

    I’m sure the headline got a lot of people to click.

  24. Songbird permalink
    June 24, 2010 2:02 am

    LOL!! Really enjoyed your post. You have a great blog. Loved looking at your books and music selections…:o)

  25. June 24, 2010 2:32 am

    no, no! you obviously lack a biology background. if a bear and a wolverine mate, you get a beaverine or a wolvear. if TWO bears and ONE wolverine mate, that’s plainly sick.

    • Laura permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:37 am

      That’s a threesome I hope never to encounter.

  26. June 24, 2010 2:42 am

    Don’t you hate things like that, what were they thinking? I love your post, I totally get it!! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Good Luck!!

  27. June 24, 2010 3:04 am

    I commented a few months ago on a number of headlines like this in one of my postings, this was one of my favourite headlines: “Illegal Hatians Caught at US Border”. Do they normally catch a lot of legal Hatians? Are they illegally Hatian? I’m not sure what exactly the headline writer was trying to convey here.

  28. June 24, 2010 3:10 am

    That would be fascinating!

  29. June 24, 2010 3:17 am

    I enjoyed this post

  30. June 24, 2010 4:16 am

    Is it really that hard—or are they simply misprioritizing? (And is “misprioritizing” a legitimate word?)

    Yes, there are constraints that complicate the matter, but if the editors focused on informing instead of on writing eye-catching headlines (not to mention the occasional, and usually failed, attempt at humor) much could be gained. Further, by changing the page layout and making other modifications the number of characters per headline and, thereby, the informational content could be increased.

    The point, however, is this: Most papers do not prioritize the informational content of a headline to the degree they should. In fact, I strongly suspect that they, at least on the Internet, are deliberately cryptic, so that readers click a link just to see what is behind it—where he would have abstained, had he known the nature of the contents in advance. (Similarly, they are sometimes deliberately misleading for the same reason.)

    • Laura permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:37 am

      I completely agree. In this analytics day and age, it’s all about the click-throughs.

  31. June 24, 2010 4:34 am

    This article put a smile on my hang over-face this morning! Thank you!

  32. June 24, 2010 4:38 am

    Nice post! As a copyeditor, I really can relate to this post.

    • Laura permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:36 am

      Me too! Headline writing is tough work, I do respect it.

  33. June 24, 2010 4:38 am

    Haha…! Well, words can be so tricky. That article maybe just want to simplify things, but… for NYtimes? Yeah… it is disappointing. A bit funny, though 😉

  34. June 24, 2010 5:02 am

    Bad copy editing? Check out this headline for an Irish paper yesterday –

    • Laura permalink*
      June 24, 2010 10:36 am

      Love it!!

    • Barry Mañana permalink
      July 2, 2010 1:56 pm

      That’s a sumo-sized headline!
      It’s nice to see that the Irish subs still get down the pub at lunchtime.

  35. June 24, 2010 6:34 am


  36. June 24, 2010 6:43 am

    that was so funny .. lol ..
    bearverine.. !! cool.. enjoyed it..

  37. June 24, 2010 7:05 am

    Hilarious! I love seeing terrible headlines, especially on news stories.

  38. June 24, 2010 7:09 am

    That Evening Herald one above is an absolute classic!

  39. June 24, 2010 7:29 am

    Bearverine is a killer

  40. June 24, 2010 7:59 am

    Hahahaha great catch! Hilarious post.

  41. June 24, 2010 8:03 am

    Hehe funny as.. Loved the picture too.

  42. mystic7ruins11 permalink
    June 24, 2010 8:08 am

    Crazy headlines=crazy results

    That would be one tenacious creature the bearverine 😀

    I’m still rolling on the floor laughing

  43. squirrelsloveacorns permalink
    June 24, 2010 8:53 am

    There are some headlines out there, even in college advertisements, not just magazines, that just make me wonder what a person was on while they were writing it. Also, what was the editor on when they approved it?

  44. zeemerblock permalink
    June 24, 2010 8:56 am

    LMAO…bearverine!! I wan to see one too! hehehe

  45. June 24, 2010 9:47 am

    Really??? I think the tag line to your post is what’s wrong actually- I thought by reading “When Copy editors write bad headlines” i was going to read about people who don’t deserve their jobs because you can do better or somehting along THOSE lines- when in fact- what I am reading here is abotu YOUR expectations on a simple headline?

    Your expectations- although entertaininly comedic- are ubsurd.

    The copy editor told you in short order- what the article was about- and you’re judging he or she by YOUR expectations?

    David Mamet couldn’t have done a better job- the article was about a guy who saw exactly what was advertised- really? How disappointing?

    Hmm, I could use the tag line “Beaverine” here and say that if you’re not seeing one inthe room, its maybe because you’re one- but that might border on insulting.

    Stop hating and try again.

  46. June 24, 2010 9:55 am

    Yikes, calm down Daniel! I would guess you’re David Mamet himself, but that copy editor who wrote that headline surely has better grammar and spelling skills

    I figure most of them are typos, but since u and a aren’t very close on the keyboard, it’s absurd.

    • June 24, 2010 10:20 am

      When correcting someone else’s grammer or spelling, it’s a good idea to check your own. But if that person you’re desperately attempting to critique because you have no better retort seems not to care about them (grammar and spelling) in the way they write- it may be a good idea to examine the possibility they may have such a greater abiltity with written word than you- that they have set aside certain things just to be able to get the words out quickly. That person may actually see your resorting to a critique on spelling as an evasive and desperate revelation of your true character. You might be risking further embarrassment taking on such an individual. But hey- these are just possibilities.

      Aside from that friendly advice- you’re grasping for straws, probably stinging from the point made-

      I love the passive aggressive defense remark common to your type- “calm down” when these are typed words on a screen- not one exclamation point among them… Oh, except in your response- so maybe you should stop projecting and accept the fact you jumped the gun and relied on the happy-go-lucky prevalence of bloggers to verbally high five each other like giddy little school girls instead of really connecting with what’s being said.

      I rest on the fact you needed to snap back at me so venomously in defense of yourself- yet not addressing the point I made at all- but rather attacking… my… spelling? To know that I hit the nail right on the head.

      You’re a cute 25 year old who likes to hear herself rant and adores the praise that seems to come so easily from your “would rather not deal with the reality of you” supporters.

      Thanks for the laugh.

      BTW, when noting letters on a keyboard- or anywhere- it’s customary to capitalize them- like so- “since U and A aren’t very close on the keyboard”. But again, just another tip.



      • Laura permalink*
        June 24, 2010 10:25 am

        Hmm, original comment wasn’t from author of blog, FYI. And thanks! I am a cute 25-year-old!

      • June 24, 2010 10:26 am

        Dear D,

        You are absurd. I am only responding to clarify that I am not Laura, I am AP, and thus you do not know a single thing about me or my age. However, you were correct in noting that I am cute. (Touche about the spelling error.)

        Have a wonderful day!


      • June 24, 2010 10:52 am

        PROVE IT! You don’t deserve the compliment if you cain’t (not a typo) prove it darling. Is your venom worth the bite like Laura’s would be?

        Sorry Laura, my baaaaad. Yes, you ARE so very cute. I retract all else said- it was meant for AP, which we can assume stands for Anonymous Person (many other options for the letter P but I’ll keep this G-rated.)

        Suppose if I knew you (Laura) I’d of let it go too and verbally high fived you- but then again maybe not. I’d rather you respect me and want to change my mind than count me as one of the many little puppy boys you must have following you around.

        You WERE wrong about the interpretation of the text.



      • Laura permalink*
        June 24, 2010 11:00 am

        Aw, DDM, I can tell we’re going to be new best friends as soon as you lighten up and continue with the feisty competitive attitude on my other posts. Welcome, new friend!!


        Additionally: In five words, my headline would have been: A Wolverine and Mating Bears. Clears up all ambiguity with the verb-versus-adjective “mating,” don’t you think? Simple transposition would have solved the problem quite nicely, while still inspiring clicks.

    • June 24, 2010 11:14 am

      You know… pretty women and the power of persuasion.

      She said “yours” and I… Where is the strength to argue?

      All of a sudden her verbal shell game seems to make everything make sense?

      Is it the sweet innocent smile? The rosy cheeks? The soft, almost golden light brown bangs? The suspicion of having a seriously hot pair of legs and cute toes? Who knows?! Who knows?!

      But all seems right with the world right now and copy editors everywhere better watch out ’cause Laura’s got a burly latin soldier on her side now- and if she says it’s incorrect- it’s incorrect and ya better change it!

      She knows her power folks… See how she asks “don’t you think?” all cute and sweet? She knows the answer before she asks.

      Your boyfriend is one lucky sap. Putty in your hands I bet.

      Who wouldn’t want to be putty?

      • Barry Mañana permalink
        July 2, 2010 2:06 pm

        I’m just potty about being a putty puppy!

        Yo, mamma, throw me in the grammar slammer!

  47. June 24, 2010 10:47 am

    People sometimes feel the need to use the platform of blog comments as a place to make themselves feel superior to others. I don’t understand why a person would bother to even leave a comment if they only have negative things to say, seems like a waste of time and energy. Constructive criticism is one thing, irate diatribes are quite another.

    If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it.

    • June 24, 2010 11:06 am

      Well yes, granted, my posts may be peppered with angst and whatnot- but as for Purpose- I think it’s obvious if you index finger to chinned it for a second my friend Calvin Klein. Love your fragrances by the way.

      I sought to provide a different point of view.

      Simple as that.

      I’m an artist. I guess I naturally seek to incite a response because of that handicap.

      I won’t apologize because I know it will fluster you if I don’t.

      I will not stand idly by while the world celebrates gleefully – I shall resist – I shall protest – I will throw my verbal tomato! lol.

      Did I ruin your mood CK? No relation to Louis CK is there?

      And to your other suggestion- stop reading it if I dont like it… hmm, true, this is an option. But this isnt a book, its a blog- it’s not much of a reading commitment. And had I done that- I would miss out on this lovely exchange.

      Now… why would I want to do that?


  48. Holly permalink
    June 24, 2010 12:30 pm

    Is that it? It’s over already? Shoot.

    • June 24, 2010 12:35 pm

      You want some Holly? I like that name- how cute r u?

      • Laura permalink*
        June 24, 2010 12:38 pm

        Oh lord, she’s my mother. So, pretty cute!

      • June 24, 2010 12:39 pm

        This took an interesting and unexpected turn.

  49. June 24, 2010 1:26 pm

    Aahahaha. Awesome. 😀

  50. June 24, 2010 2:08 pm

    ooooh one word…

    cougarrrrrrrrr! lol

    Mrs. Holly, nevermind you don’t have to answer the question- You have a lovely daughter and I’m sure you’re a whole mess’a hotness yourself to have created such a beautiful and intelligent young woman.

    If you’re craving more of my angst I’m so sorry to dissapoint- I win’t be directing much more to your daughter- she’s obviously got my ticket as you can see. But you’re welcome to search my little experimental blogs for doses of my darker side.

    Anonymous Person… I’m still waiting. Prove it and get in on this ego boosting compliment-o-saurus’ roller coaster. C’mon- dont be shy!

    • June 24, 2010 2:34 pm

      Prove it? Ha! You gotta work for it, son.

      There are plenty of AP tidbits littering this site, both in Laura’s posts and the comments. You might even find a guest post written by yours truly.

      Bonus points for figuring out what AP really stands for.

      • June 24, 2010 2:42 pm

        Son? First clue. You’re either a dude, or a ghetto-ized gal.

        I gotta work for it tho? Really? No, not really. I called you cute thinkin’ u were Laura- Son. You jumped on it calling yourself cute. Hmm, signs of either a huge ego or an aggrandized sense of self esteem to cover up insecurities.

        Bottom line- u ain’t cute. My work is done- because someone with the fore, and not the latter condition would have the confidence to shut me up by simply putting up a pic- but you, seemingly want to be chased- further displaying your need to feel wanted.

        Lets not discount the fact that you interjected in my response to this blog with your inciteful commentary- hence my mistaking you for the author.

        Poow baby needs attention?

        No love for YOU! Ms. Un-Cute.

        U can’t prove it. Simple as that.

        If you’re Fugly, you have my sympathy.

      • Laura permalink*
        June 24, 2010 3:02 pm

        Aw, she’s actually cuter than me! One of my painfully honest ex-boyfriends once called me “a poor man’s AP.” Yikes, did I mention “ex”?

        Her modesty speaks volumes, she doesn’t need to stoop to posting a pic of her beautiful self to prove to a stranger that she is in fact, gorgeous. Again, there are pics of her on this site…but it makes me sad you won’t play the game and search them out.

        Happy reading, lover!

      • June 24, 2010 3:16 pm

        Ohhhhh, she’s got your endorsement- AND she’s a personal friend?


        I’m backing down all over the place.

        Lucky it’s not Pride weekend or I may be smarting more.

        Sorry I don’t have the energy to chase down pics of a gal who uses the unladylike term “son”.

        It’s cute when hot (white) girls recite rap lyrics, but unfortunately some of the terminology leaks into every day use like the spread of oil and it leave me feeling like a pelican in the gulf.

        And that ex couldnt be more mistaken- AP should post her icon as you have- if she’s hiding it’s for a reason- and cute (aka beauty) isn’t ALL about looks.

        Call me lover again and I’ll really blush.

        Shtop it!


  51. June 24, 2010 9:35 pm

    i think 1/4 of the comments here goes around danieldamianm. hahaha! hey daniel boone catch me if you caaaaannn..

    • June 25, 2010 8:58 am

      Dear Mr. Fudd, Thank you for the invite, but I sincerely cannot pursue you in the woods as you suggest. Although a naked romp with you sounds appealing aside from the possibility of a rough twig perhaps getting stuck in an inconvenient place- the name Elmer does not promise for me at least- much satisfaction in respect to being cute.

      Seriously though, how’s that working out for you? I can’t imagine a woman whispering “oh, Elmer… deeper… harder…” or something… and it sounding too sexy. What was mom thinking? Is that an Elmer Jr? That would explain it of course. What do you sub it with? Just E? Call me E. Yeah, thats cool. I’m not a big fan of Daniel so dont think I’m being a Richard or anything. I really am curious. Eugene’s do Gene. Edward’s do Ed, or Eddie. I can do a Danny, and it doesn’t conjure up an image of my mom it’s kind of sexy when in the ear whispered. Unfortunately the wonderful woman I’m dating now had a bad Danny before me, so it’s a little uncomfortable for her. Baby by default.

      Baby by Default.

      Dibs on that book title yall.

      What a wierd morning- off to my own blog now- ta-ta E.

  52. June 25, 2010 7:56 am

    …and what was exactly inside? …after clicking the headline?

  53. June 25, 2010 8:51 am

    This is great. The worst personal experience in my book was running a story on a blind girl and her guide dog … the editor over me wrote the headline “A Sight for Sore Eyes” …. I am not kidding.

  54. antoeknee2 permalink
    June 27, 2010 10:02 am

    This blog made me smile! thanks 😀

  55. June 28, 2010 8:25 am

    A bearverine is one dangerous animal, stay far away! LOL!

  56. June 28, 2010 1:53 pm

    definitely not the worst slip up, but funny nonetheless!

  57. June 29, 2010 6:48 pm

    what sucks is that the copy editor that wrote the headlines probably has a bachelor’s degree and probably has been doing this for a while.

  58. July 2, 2010 10:22 am

    that is great. Thanks for starting off my day with a laugh! Keep it up


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