Fly me to the Sun

9 Mar

BONUS UPDATE: It’s the day after Budget Day, and what the heck does this mean?

The nation may be abuzz with debate about whether the chancellor’s change to National Insurance for the self-employed is retribution against the wealthy and their artificial “service companies” used to avoid tax, or an attack on the working-class independent contractor – the Sun’s beloved “White Van Man” – at a time of economic upheaval. But never mind that. By far the most pressing question of the day is: is this a flying verb?

Scarcely two days after this blog made the confident assertion that flying-verb headlines would never be seen in Britain as they used to be, decades ago, in American tabloids, up pops the Sun with something that looks an awful lot like… well, what is it?

It’s not an adjective: “spite van man” might be an acceptable pun to refer to a van-driver who has done something unpleasant or vicious, but that’s not the story here. It’s not, similarly, an imperative: the article isn’t calling for retribution, simply analysing the news.

Is the chancellor himself, in the picture, being described as the “spite van man”, perhaps? Hard to see how: he doesn’t have a van, nor is he spiting the vehicles themselves. And look at the first standfirst: “Hammond £240 raid on self-employed”. Doesn’t that tempt you to believe that the sense is “Tories spite van man” – that the subject of the sentence has been deleted, leaving the verb to fly?

Perhaps not, in fact. The likeliest explanation is that it’s a simple rhyming pun that ultimately fails to mean anything: a bit like the baffling (and much-criticised) “NOD IN MY NAME” front page the Sun ran about Jeremy Corbyn supposedly not bowing sufficiently at the Cenotaph. That was a familiar pacifist phrase with one word altered to fit the news, but not something you could actually parse for sense.

But on a day when even the Daily Star (“ROB THE BUILDER!“) is running strange, agentless Budget headlines on page 1, you’re entitled to wonder if an old headline form is lumbering improbably back to life. Who exactly is doing the robbing?

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Day 2, and I think this idea is approaching the end of its development curve.

Still, at least it’s clear that this one’s an imperative.



5 Responses to “Fly me to the Sun”

  1. lastyear1 March 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    On a disgracefully unrelated aspect of headline style, I wonder what you think if this head in a newspaper not so very much removed from the Tribune:

    Trump is pathological liar: Sanders

    It caused me a millisecond of delay in which the prospect of Sanders being the pathological liar Trump is (if you follow me) was rejected by the conscious mind. I think this is because one expects the colon, in Fowler’s explanation, to deliver the goods invoiced in the preceding words. In ancient day an em dash would have been used for the tag, giving these possibilities:

    Sanders: Trump is pathological liar

    Trump is pathological liar — Sanders

    • edlatham March 11, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

      Yes, I agree: to construct it that way round you really need quotes round the first bit.

      ‘Trump is pathological liar’: Sanders

      And even then you might as well put it the other way round!


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    […] Mail website, which have already had the subject introduced in the main hed, or the Sun’s hard-to-parse front-page puns.) Inspection of the Press & Journal homepage suggests it’s a one-off even there: its […]

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    […] the UK, the Sun also comes up with headlines very like this – ones that make more grammatical sense if you assume the subject is implied – but […]

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    […] back benches are well aware of the place they hold in the common imagination, and will often run variations on their most celebrated jokes in follow-up […]

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