Although howlers and misprints are a nuisance found routinely in the pages of newspapers across the globe, sometimes, with their hilarious and quaint content, they uncannily become the most memorable part, albeit for wrong reasons, of reading a daily or a magazine. But often in newspapers we also come across other occasions of fun, for example some odd personal or commercial advertisements, notices, amazing announcements, startling headlines, strange reports or stunning short takes.
A one-line headline in a New York paper, to start with, startled readers through its bizarre content and phrasing of words: FATHER OF TEN SHOT DEAD: MISTAKEN FOR RABBIT. The New Zealand Church News once reported, “A familiar question was reopened — how Sunday school children are to be attached to the Church, and once more the use of adhesive stamps was recommended.” Another New Zealand daily once published the following bit of information in style, “In 1918 Miss Gilford joined the New Zealand Army Nursing Service as a masseuse. She has served on several local bodies.” A business magazine, accused of plagiarism, once declared, “We wish to state clearly that we have no need to plagiarise, our Staff being sufficiently competent to stand upon its own bottom.” Such a declaration is enough to retain readers’ unflagging loyalty to the publication.
The following advertisement, published in the New York Tribune, presents the powerful impact of a single word in producing malicious humour, “Mr and Mrs Nash Wilding, of 880 Fifth Avenue, announce the engagement of their debatable (italics mine) daughter, Miss Virgin A Wilding, to Mr Luis Marcellino de Acevedo of Buenos Aires.” The following advertisement that appeared in the mouthpiece of a company specialising in killing termites and bugs shows how ludicrous and counter-productive the effect can be if the words of a sentence are not placed properly, “With the advent of spring, the carpet beetle commences its ravenous inroads into your carpets. Have them treated now before irreparable damage is done by the Nelson firm with 10 years’ guarantee.” The company could have saved face only by presenting the same words as, “Have them treated now by the Nelson Company with 10 years’ guarantee before irreparable damage is done.”
You do not know how newspapers can take you unawares by reporting tidbits of information ridiculously queer or quaint in their content. The Daily Mail once reported that a 35-year-old mother of five had been told by doctors that she would give birth to quintuplets shortly. The quins’ father was a 39-year-old father of eight. Both the parents were so pleased that before the quins arrived, they planned to marry. Greater occasion of laughter is caused by the following ad in the Daily Mail that went thus, “Applications are invited for the post of a superintendent for the making of nurses’ uniforms. Willing candidates must have knowledge of upholstery.”
A study by three physicians, reported by a health magazine of Ohio, USA, showed that “perhaps two out of three births in the USA result from pregnancies”. An interesting advertisement in The Times ran as follows, “Goat required on loan, September. London; exceptional specimen; house trained; odourless; nanny or billy. Telephone — WHI 5957.”
We find the amusingly suggestive advertisement in Atherstone News and Herald, “The bride, who was given away by her brother, wore a dress of white figured brocade with a trailing veil held in place by a coronet of pearls. She carried a bouquet of rose buds and goods vehicles, leaving free access to all private vehicles not built for more than seven passengers.”
Short takes in a newspaper or a periodical often regale us with ample doses of laughter and fun. We are startled by the terribly unexpected content offered by them. What can be more catching than the following report published in a Wisconsin paper, “On July 11 he suffered a stroke, but with the loving care of his family and his efficient nurse, he never fully recovered.” Equally mindboggling is the amazing report brought out by the English paper, The Guardian, “While the Russians perfect the technique of disinformation, at least one television dealer in London is experimenting with a process called ‘de-repairing’. Submitting an estimate for putting right a TV set he explained that in fact the work had already been done; they had to do it, he said, to find out what the cost of doing it would be. The customer could, if he wished, refuse the estimate and in this case the engineers would be instructed to re-repair it and restore it to its original unsatisfactory state. There would, however, be an ‘estimate charge’ of 25 s to cover the cost of the exercise.”
A Shanghai-based paper once reported that Miss Bate, well-known artistic photographer, has had many celebrities amongst her matrons and in 1956 she was awarded a good meal for her excellent work. We remain grateful to Weekend magazine for providing us with the following take: A woman was horrified when her best hat was buried with the coffin at a South African funeral — she had planned to wear it at a cocktail party later in the day, but an undertaker mistook it for a floral tribute.
A newspaper in Ghana came out with the intriguing report, “Ghana is to change over to driving on the right. The change will be made gradually.” The following information, published in the New York State Medical Journal, was offered by a company about a particular medicine, “Among the side effects of this mercurial drug, the most important is the death of the patient shortly after the injection.”
Absurdity quite often has a part in producing a humorous effect emanating from some advertisements published in newspapers and magazines. A Liverpool paper, for instance, published information that two Ford cars were travelling behind each other in the direction of Liverpool. Another such advertisement in the Dallas News ran like, “Wanted a male waitress. Don’t answer unless qualified.”
Policemen in many parts of the world seek to present unnatural incidents as natural ones, much to the chagrin of the masses who invariably a want a probe into any unusual incident, major or minor, before their attentions divert elsewhere. In this context, it is appropriate to quote a newspaper report published in The Guardian, “The body of Mrs Helen James, aged 30, was found yesterday in a suitcase in a shed at her home in Elstead Avenue, Wembley Park. Police are satisfied there is no question of foul play. An inquest will be held at Hendon on Monday.” Commercial notices and advertisements quite frequently make a strong case for delectable reading as happens in case of the following notice in a Derby shop, “Our charges are commensurate to quality and can safely be assumed to be the lowest in the district,” or the equally befuddling one outside a dance hall: SATURDAY NIGHT DANCE: Very exclusive. Everybody welcome.
Letters published in newspapers also, at times, make funny reading. The New Statesman published a letter that presented the following lines, “My aunt has a mania for boiling things. On having trouble with her sewing machine she put it in the boiler and boiled it. When the machine was taken out it worked as good as new.” A serious contributor to the “Letters to the Editor” column of the Liverpool Echo wrote, “I am also told that a gents’ toilet is to be built adjacent to the sub-station. If the local inhabitants of this part of Childwall stand for this they will stand for anything.”
And we cannot but sympathise with the elderly contributor who wistfully reminisced, “I will never forget my first kiss. I was 65 at that time and was having a snooze on the pleasant beach when I got kissed. I looked up and saw a large dog running away.” Now hold your breath and enjoy the following letter written by a Philippine woman teacher, “Dear Sir, I have the honour to resignate as my works are many and my salary are few. Besides which my supervising teacher makes many lovings to me to which I only reply, ‘Oh, not, Oh, not’.”
Not just hilarious reports, notices and advertisements delight us with their funny content, in many cases strange and quirky headlines create the same result. A New York Herald Tribune headline was “SISTERS WED BROTHERS, HAVE BABIES THE SAME DAY”. We find the following headline in The Guardian, “KING DENIES HE ATE 6 PEOPLE”. Stunning effect is also maintained in the following headline in the Gloucestershire Echo, “POLICE FOUND SAFE UNDER BLANKET”. Yet another interesting headline could be found in the Evening Standard, “TAXMAN CRUSHED IN ORANGE JUICE CASE”.
There is no dearth of notices, advertisements and short takes that amaze and amuse us greatly. We also find great pleasure out of howlers and misprints that are an unavoidable part of any newspaper or magazine anywhere in the world. A Californian newspaper reported, “‘This budget leakage is something that&’s got to stop,’ said the president, with what seemed to be more than a trace of irrigation in his voice.” The Albany Journal provided readers with a crucial piece of instruction: Keeping all food under cover is the first step towards ridding the house of aunts.
A wedding invitation published in a daily had the following words: Mr and Mrs Simon Parker request the honour of your presents at the marriage of their daughter Eva to Mr James Turner. A cleaners’ notice published in a newspaper gave the warning, “Customers having left garments that are now over 30 days are to be disposed of.” A similar advertisement ran as follows, “Choice Wine for Sale, being the property of a lady removed from a cellar in London”.
The Philadelphia Record published the following piece of advice by a poison-making company to its customers, “Wrap poison bottles in sandpaper and fasten with scotch tape or a rubber band. If there are children in the house, lock them in a small metal box.” Then again, what can be funnier than the following advertisement published in an African paper, “Old, established manufacturer of suspension bridges requires door-to-door salesman”.
The wrong placement of modifiers or adjectives can cause great fun and confusion as regards the meaning of a sentence and this is particularly noticeable in such advertisements as the one published in a Delhi-based newspaper, “For sale — Granite-faced Gentleman&’s residence at Pahargunj”, or the following one published in a Lancashire paper, “Gents 3-speed bicycle, also two ladies for sale, in good condition”. But fun and absurdity have other variants, too, as are found in the following advertisement published in a ladies magazine: LADY NURSE WANTED. EXPERIENCED INFANT PREFERRED. ENTIRE CHARGE.
As long as newspapers and periodicals exist, howlers and oddities in the printed pages will continue to baffle our minds and while purists will keep on scowling at them, we shall keep lapping up every bit of absurdity that titillates us with their funny and bizarre content and presentation.