Politics, sports, and headlines
While cricket terminology is often used in writing political headlines, other sports are yet to have that privilege.
Hockey and chess figure, but only as a poor second, says ANINDYA RAI VERMAN.
Wednesday, Jun 27 17:23:59, 2012
Many headlines in the news pages, especially of political stories, in most English newspapers appear to have been borrowed from cricket terminology. In a cricket-crazy nation, one would say that is quite natural. The editors on the news desk in most English dailies and even magazines and online media have been relying on cricket lingo to write headlined for political stories, so much so that it sometimes seems there are no other sports ‘that the news desk people can draw inspiration from. Sample some of the headlines from different newspapers in the run-up to the high-voltage Presidential race. “Team M-M bowls a doosra”, screamed an all-caps front-page, banner headline in a prominent daily, the M-M standing for SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The strap line read: “PM doosra choice, Kalam first; Pranab, Ansari rejected”. Here’s one more: “Bengal Cong bats for Pranab, woos Mamata”.
Though cricket lingo seems to rule as far as headlining is concerned, the Shahrukh Khan-starrer Yash Chopra flick “Chak De India” (‘A story to remind the nation… of its national sport’ – hockey, what else) released on August 10, 2007, did spawn several “Chak de” political headlines. Consider this February 2008 headline: “Lalu Prasad says ‘Chak De! Railways.’” The story about Lalu Prasad adding a garnish of Bollywood masala to the 2008-09 Railway Budget and likening the “historic” success of the rail network to the Khan film, read: Prasad, drawing a parallel with the Shahrukh Khan starrer, which was based on the game of hockey, said: “We are scoring goal after goal in every match. Every child in the country will now say ‘Chak De Railways.’” Look at this October 2007 headline: “In Gujarat, Modi turns poster boy; Cong does Chak De!” The story goes on to ask: “Congress is hoping for a Chak De… wave. But who is their Kabir Khan? Can Rahul Gandhi do what Shah Rukh Khan did with a bunch of no hopers?”
As far as chess is concerned, one sometimes reads in the papers of some political character “checkmating” a rival, a chess term. Sample this headline on the current presidential election run-up: “UPA playing checkmate game on presidential choice: BJP.”
Cricket certainly rules. “Sachin hits a ton with critics, spurns Govt bungalow”, another front-page “politico-cricket” headline about MP Sachin Tendulkar’s refusal to waste taxpayers’ money in taking possession of sprawling government accommodation right opposite the government bungalow of Rahul Gandhi and decide to rather put up in a hotel at his own expense while being in Delhi. Here’s another such headline: “MP Sachin vows to bat for other sports.” Our headline writers should perhaps now resolve to try and draw inspiration from sports other than cricket. Well, arguably while chess-driven and “Chak De” headlines are perhaps a distant second, why can’t they draw inspiration from Olympic sports such as athletics, judo, beach volleyball, equestrian, taekwondo or trampoline? Don’t such sports have terminology to help with headlines for political stories or is it that the headline writers are not familiar with these sports as they are not so popular in India?
That familiarising oneself with sports other than cricket is worth the effort is borne out by the fact that although some of us may not be specifically aware of it, we do sometimes use “fencing terminology” in news headlines in a modified manner. For instance, it would be illuminating to note that the origin of the phrase “thrust and parry” is from fencing. The original fencing lingo is “Lunge and Parry”, where “Lunge” is the attack by the fencer who is lunging with the point of the weapon as far toward the opponent as possible, and “parry” is the defense to that attack. Here is an example from fencing, an Olympic sport: “A brilliant riposte to an insult.” In fencing, riposte describes an attack that a fencer makes immediately after executing a “parry”; hence, the fencing term “parry-riposte”. In general usage, it would mean: “A brilliant answer to an insult.”
Now let’s consider the following possibility. “All-weather allies: China to help Pak resist US pressure” – a standard news desk headline. Now, let’s turn to athletics lingo. In athletics, the term “Tartan track” has emerged as a synonym for “all-weather” athletic tracks since the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. “Tartan Track” is the trademarked “all-weather” synthetic track surface made of polyurethane binders and rubber, used for top track and field competitions. Come to think of it and the idea of “Tartan” being “all-weather” may be profitably used in our test case: “Tartan allies: China to help Pak resist US pressure”. Maybe the news desk can save a few letters too in fitting the headline in the space available.
There is no harm in being imaginative. Such are the ways of the news desk that I have often seen that when one daily comes up with a novel news headline, it finds its reflection, even in a modified manner, in other papers soon after. Novel, space-saving headlines are “contagious”. Take the “Team M-M bowls a doosra” headline we discussed at the beginning of this story. Saying “M-M” instead of “Mulayam-Mamata” drastically reduces the length of the headline too. Soon after this banner headline appeared in a prominent daily, others picked it up and modified it to “M&M”. Make your own logical innovations and others will follow, seems to be the unwritten rule of headline writing.
Now consider another possible headline: “It’s Ippon for Modi in feud with Joshi” (a sub-headline, or “strap line” as it is called, could explain how Gujarat Chief Minster Narendra Modi was “victorious” in ousting his long-standing rival Sanjay Joshi and making the later quit BJP.) In Judo, Ippon means a move that results in victory and stands for the highest score a fighter can achieve. Are we using difficult-to-understand terms in our quest for creativity? Yes and no. Yes, if you look at it in the first instance. But readers are no fools. Once a “sport terminology” gains currency, readers might actually begin appreciating the novelty, rather than the plain vanilla stuff. Like I said, there is no harm in being imaginative, as long as the innovations are logical.
Perhaps the coming London Olympics will be a golden opportunity for our headline writers to update their knowledge of various sports and give a new “taste” to political headlines.