Way back, eons ago, when I was taking journalism classes in college, one of the courses I took was in page design. In that class, I learned about the dread “tombstone,” when two adjacent headlines on the page seem to merge into each other, conveying an unintended, often humorous and/or macabre meaning. With modern page-layout software, tombstones seldom happen anymore, since page designers have considerable flexibility and can make sure that two headlines are offset enough not to appear connected. But in the old days, that was not always the case. The headlines were written by copy-editors, who often knew only what typeface and size the page designer had specified, not where on the page the particular headline would appear. And if the newspaper was large enough to have more than one copy-editor, two adjacent stories could easily have headlines written by two different people.
Nowadays, tombstones don’t happen so often in a newspaper. Most often, it’s not two adjacent news stories, but the juxtaposition of a news story with an advertisement, since the news and advertising are produced in two different departments with little, if any, coordination between them. The most memorable such tombstone that I can recall came in late 2008. On the day following the election of Barack Obama, the Albuquerque Journal had published a front page making note of the historical nature of the event. A few days later, the Journal ran a reproduction of that front page, on page A4, in full, glorious color. On that same day, Macy’s ran a full-page, full-color ad launching its Christmas sales. Because of the way newspaper printing presses are set up, only some pages in a section can have full color, and the result was that the Macy’s ad was on page A5, directly facing the front page reproduction. Thus, page A4 had the headline “Obama Wins!” while page A5 had the headline “Yes, Virginia, there Is a Santa Claus!”
All of this is a roundabout way of announcing the newest addition to the links over in the sidebar on the left, naked in public and other things I didn’t know I’d be when I grew up. This is a blog by Harlean Carpenter, the Poetic Pinup, who is a fiction, but who is still somewhat associated with my brother Jer, of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas.
Harlean often comments about the vagaries of the English language, as well as about how people misuse it. I am afraid I will have to agree to disagree with her on punctuation associated with closing quote marks (she insists on being logical, while I must stick with the rules of American Standard Written English, even if said rules are illogical, if for no other reason than that I have to make sure my students produce writing that conforms with the standard). But most of what she says, I do agree with, and her observations go beyond mere grammar. I found myself especially amused (translated into tweetspeak, that means ROTFL) with her recent post on Why I Love Spam. No, she doesn’t enjoy junk emails any more than anybody else does. But she does look in her spambox on a regular basis. Maybe she originally did it to make sure that her email filter hadn’t accidentally sent some non-spam there, but now, she likes to look for the juxtapositions in which the subject lines of two adjacent spams accidentally make a humorous phrase. She calls these juxtapositions “chunks,” but really, they’re the same thing as the old tombstones. Here are some examples that she cites:
“Want those stretch marks to vanish?
Conquer the language barrier”
“Improve Your Sex Life!
Nursing Assistant Courses Online”
“Your kidney failure may
Earn generous revenue online”
“men have experienced bigger
Sprouts in as little as 5 days”
“Begin a rewarding career with
Secrets of scoring with women”
“When Wall Street crashes
We can keep your male instrument”
“Asbestos exposure is shown to
Enlarge your penis in a safe way”
“Express your feelings in an elegant way
Quit talking and start shagging”
So what’s in your spambox?