John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Santayana on the copy desk

Those who do not learn from the headline mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.

A reader forwards this Denver Post headline:

Bar as a noun meaning a saloon is widely recognized. But it is also a verb much favored in headlinese meaning “prohibit.”

The same ambiguity crops up in a classic headline collected in one of the Columbia Journalism Review’s features of defective headlines:

Minneapolis bars putting leaves in street

The errors of the past repay study.


  1. I've noticed this a lot, too, and always wonder why they don't just use "bans" instead.

  2. The story about the North African who prohibited saloons:

    Berber bars bars.

  3. The bar is also a fish, which was my first reading of this!

  4. I read the first "bar" as saloon and didn't even consider the other meaning. Maybe I need to bar myself from bars.

  5. Bars is also how I pronounce "bears," so just imagine my confusion.