The headline verbs that we hate

Some words exist primarily in the world of newspaper headlines. I was thinking about this problem this week as students in my editing classes have begun writing headlines.

Many of the students are writing compelling headlines that communicate the news and lure readers into a story. A few of them are writing headlines that sound like headlines they may have read in their hometown newspapers — and not in a good way.

These “headline-ese” headlines use verbs that no normal person would utter in conversation, and they are often overused. It’s hard to imagine readers understanding or being attracted by these verbs. Confusion is a more likely reaction.

I started thinking about the headline verbs that I find particularly annoying. I also asked friends on Facebook and my Twitter followers. Here’s our list of those verbs that bug us:

  • Mull
  • Eye
  • Ax
  • Irk
  • Ink (as in “to sign”)
  • Rap (as in “to criticize”)
  • Bilk
  • Vie
  • Slate (as in “to schedule”)
  • Tout
  • Toot
  • Laud
  • Finger
  • Fete
  • Tap (as in “to select” or “to appoint”)
  • Pelt
  • Probe
  • Offer (on restaurant reviews)
  • Shine (about Scouts or students)
  • Nab
  • Opines
  • Quiz
  • Limn
  • Any HuffPo verbs: Eviscerate, destroy, hammer, maul, disembowel, go nuclear, skull#$*@

Thanks to @underoak, @laurenhough, @wisekaren, @lukemorris, @montyhobbs on Twitter and a host of others on Facebook for their contributions.



  1. scrambled
    couldn’t dampen the spirits of (rain)
    showed no emotion (as the verdict was announced)
    churned (of a hurricane)
    dodged a bullet

  2. I actually use “irk” in everyday speech. But none of the others.
    I’d add “spawn” (as in tornadoes) to your list.

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