Applause, please, for a great headline

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We post a lot of crash blossoms here on Language Log — appallingly worded headlines that slow down your parsing and (whether intendedly or not) have crazy extra meanings. But let's hand out some kudos occasionally for totally wonderful headlines: clever, appropriate, amusing, terse, eye-catching, and appropriate. There was one in The Scotsman today. Here in Britain all the newspapers are making front page stories out of the discovery that one of the members of the Russian spy ring just dicovered in the USA was a good-looking redhead with sultry boudoir portraits posted on her Facebook page. And The Scotsman's choice of a headline was absolutely wonderful…

So put your hands together, please, for a big round of applause:

The spy who loved herself

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20 Comments »

  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 8:18 am

    The New York Post went with "'Red' Head" on yesterday's cover, with a picture of Anna Chapman. The Daily News also ran a picture of Chapman but went with the more boring headline, "Moscow on the Hudson."

  2. Nijma said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 9:20 am

    The Register went with:

    Russian spy ring bust uncovers tech toolkit
    Feds flush flame-haired femme fatale

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/29/spy_ring_tech/

    Seems the redhead is getting all the press; has Russia no more Illya Kuryakins? Oh, and she used a Mac.

  3. Peter Erwin said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    Oh, and she used a Mac.
    The article has references to "MAC addresses", but not, as far as I can tell, to Macintosh computers (one of the other defendents apparently used an Asus computer).

    (The Register is savvy enough to refer to a Macintosh computer as a "Mac", not a "MAC", which is something completely different, even though you do sometimes see people using the latter for the former.)

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    Today's N.Y. Post has "THE SPY WHO LOVED US," with the "us" meaning New York City and its residents, as explicated by the subhed "Russia's NY minx painted the town red."

  5. Bobbie said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    I favor the NY Post's hedline and **love the subhed!

  6. peter said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

    What allusion or context am I missing here? The quoted Scotsman headline seems neither particularly clever nor funny to me.

  7. Peter Taylor said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond.

  8. sarra said,

    June 30, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

    I'm with peter, except that I was aware of the Bond (as maybe he was, too). Odd.

  9. John said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 1:14 am

    Doesn't 'to love oneself' also have the meaning of something one usually does by oneself?

  10. peter said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 1:53 am

    Thanks, Peter Taylor. I knew of the Bond movie, but that allusion did not seem enough to make the headline wonderful or remarkable. It's nice to know I'm not alone in this, Sarra.

  11. andrew c said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 2:45 am

    @peter & sarra
    I think it's the contrast between Fleming's pompous title and the sharp-tongued vernacular insult of 'loves herself' that makes it so clever. But I suppose a great headline is like any great invention: any fool could have done it, but none of them did.

    Perhaps I can lay claim to 'Mom and apple spy'.

  12. Xmun said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 5:31 am

    And since when has "loves herself" been a sharp-tongued vernacular insult? I too was mystified and couldn't see any good reason for applause.

  13. Graeme said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 6:14 am

    Media attention to redheads reminds me of a ad controversy in Australia at the moment (coincidentally in the week we gain a female PM who jokes that her gingerheadness is more unlikely than her gender).

    The road safety ad's punchline is 'every time you use your mobile phone whilst a redhead gets its wings'

    http://mumbrella.com.au/dont-be-a-dickhead-or-a-redhead-will-get-his-wings-road-safety-ads-are-cleared-29075

    I'm dimly aware the line 'everytime a bell rings an angel gets its wings' was popularised in a hokey Capra movie.

    But is 'everytime X a Y gets its wings' a recognised snowclone?
    And leaving aside the dubious link between dangerous driving -> dickheads -> hair colour, why would the snowclone or saying appeal to Gen Y?

  14. Graeme said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 6:17 am

    Sorry for the typos. Shouldn't post on an iphone, whilst on a bus…

    The controversial advertising slogan is: 'Everytime you use your mobile phone whilst driving, a redhead gets its wings'

    Nb 'its' rather than 'their'. Perhaps to further dehumanise the redheaded soul?

  15. outeast said,

    July 2, 2010 @ 5:40 am

    Re. wings (@Graeme)

    Never even heard the formula meself, but a quick google search for the string "every time a * a * gets its wings" gets a very mixed bag of ghits:

    Every time a Guinea hatches, a kitten gets its wings
    Every Time A Bell Rings A Balrog Gets Its Wings
    Every Time a Blogger Tweets, A Post Gets Its Wings
    every time a Skyline dies…a S13 gets its wings
    Every time a retard makes a shitty analogy, an angel gets its wings
    Every time a pally cries, a Bliz dev gets its wings
    Every time a comment is made, a fairy gets its wings
    Every time a Democrat loses a moonbat from hell gets its wings burned off
    every time a Lakers fan cries, a Steve Nash gets its wings
    Every time a goal horn blows, a broken-down Zamboni gets its wings
    Every time a bottle is produced, a fairy gets its wings amputated
    Every time a celebrity baby is born, a paparazzi gets its wings
    every time a lesbian couple breaks up, a tabloid gets its wings

    …And tons more. So I guess snowclone it is, if that qualifies as a snowclone (I'm never quite clear on that).

    Interestingly (mildly) it seems the bizarre Australian ad campaign you reference is the exception rather than the rule in leveraging the sexual meaning to 'getting one's wings'. At least, a scan of the first few dozen results for that string threw up no other apparent uses of that sense.

  16. Jim Ingram said,

    July 2, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

    The Register article refers to a MAC address. This has nothing to do with a computer brand; virtually any device that connects to the internet has a media access control (MAC) address that uniquely identifies the internal component that connects to a local or ISP network. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MAC_address has a good description.

  17. Ken Grabach said,

    July 7, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Considering that her hair is, indeed red, shouldn't the NY Post referred to her as a vixen, not a minx?

  18. AdamW said,

    July 9, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    I know I'm late to this thread, but on the subject of wonderful headlines, Reuters featured a story on June 16th with the headline, "German student attacks Hell's Angels with puppy." The sub-head attached to the article (and really, who among us could read that tantalizing link without immediately clicking on it?) would be difficult to improve in any way: "A German student created a major traffic jam in Bavaria after making a rude gesture at a group of Hell's Angels motorcycle gang members, hurling a puppy at them and then escaping on a stolen bulldozer."

    For now, the article is still viewable here: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65E39Q20100615?loomia_ow=t0%3As0%3Aa49%3Ag43%3Ar2%3Ac0.147521%3Ab34944944%3Az0

  19. Jeremy said,

    July 10, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

    "German student attacks Hell's Angels with puppy."

    That was a great headline. The best part was at the end of the article I read, it said, "The puppy was unharmed."

  20. Paul said,

    July 12, 2010 @ 4:57 am

    Re: The Mac/MAC confusion.

    The BBC news originally ran with this text.

    One, Anna Chapman, is accused of sitting in a Manhattan coffee shop in January and using a Mac laptop to transfer data to a Russian government official as he passed by in a people-carrier.

    "Law enforcement agents utilized a commercially available tool that can detect the presence of wireless networks. The agents detected the presence of a particular network (the "ad hoc network") with two associated Mac addresses." Those addresses are believed to be those of Ms Chapman and the Russian, the papers say.

    But later corrected it to this (I'd like to think my email to them had something to do with it):

    One, Anna Chapman, is accused of sitting in a Manhattan coffee shop in January and using a laptop to transfer data to a Russian government official as he passed by in a people-carrier.

    "Law enforcement agents utilized a commercially available tool that can detect the presence of wireless networks. The agents detected the presence of a particular network (the "ad hoc network") with two associated (Media Access Control) addresses." Those addresses are believed to be those of Ms Chapman and the Russian, the papers say.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/us_and_canada/10442869.stm

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