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I'm an advertising copywriter.

When I write headlines, depending on the job, I employ rhyme schemes, puns, idioms, metaphors and quotes.

I've been asked to write headlines for a law firm with a style like those of The Economist. If you put The Economist into Google Images, you'll get some fine examples.

I as a writer am quite intimidated by the wit of these headlines and haven't been taught the method of producing headlines like these.

I'm sure all you writers out there might have a technique for writing these sort of headlines that you might be able to help me add to my arsenal.

To be clear, I would never be so rude to ask you to do my work for me, I am only interested in a method you might know to make this less of an intimidating process for me as I seem to have the writer's block bug from it being as intimidating as it currently is for me.

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After doing the search you recommended, I find myself wondering: do you mean headlines, or tag lines? –  J.R. Nov 22 '12 at 12:12
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1 Answer

Essentially, you're asking, "How can I become a 'punnier' person?" (Or, perhaps more specifically, "What techniques might help me conjure witty puns, rhymes, and play-on-words wordplay more easily?")

This is a topic I've mused on for some time. I haven't done any formal research on the subject, but I've observed that some people can pen their parody, poetry, and puns almost effortlessly – their Groucho Marxist quips pop into their minds just about automatically, as if they are hardwired to think of "oxyneuronic" thoughts – while others might flail to formulate a similarly witty idea, with their results coming across as flat and forced.

Can someone become self-trained to become more adroit with such wit? My first suggestion would be to immerse yourself in the world of borrowed- and double-meaning. If you want to become fluent in French, move to France; if you want to become a more creative tagline punster, surround yourself with the cream of the word-croppers. I'd recommend that you start by working on first-rate crossword puzzles. Puzzle makers do a great job of using secondary meanings of words to create clues that seem almost misleading at first. Pay particular attention to clues with a question-mark at the end, as these are used to indicate a stretched pun. As one website says:

A question mark at the end of a clue usually signals that the clue/answer combination involves some sort of pun, e.g. "Grateful?" = ASHES

Will that work? In other words, will such exercises help train your brain to be more creative? I don't know for sure, but at least it's something practical you can try. That beats handwringing, at least in my book.

I'd also pay attention to pop culture. I think the most effective puns in advertising are references to widely-recognized idioms and expressions. For example, "Take me to an Economist reader" is a pun off of the more well-known "Take me to your leader," which comes from cheesy sci-fi movies. But if you're not in tune with what's trending, you'll be unaware of a trove potential catchphrases to play off of.

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That was wonderful advice and thank you; as you say some puns just seem to line up better than others do and I also try to understand what makes it so. What I've gathered so far is that the writers for The Economist work find famous phrases or idioms that require only the slightest of bending to align to The Economist positioning which is, if you read the magazine, you have to be an extremely smart and successful person in the business world. –  Warren van Rooyen Nov 23 '12 at 7:12
    
I think that what I will try do is search for idioms related to subjects of money, business etc. and then attempt, as you say, to achieve the least forced pun which seems to equal the most witty headline. I hope that what I've said in my comment here may also help other writers with a way of working. –  Warren van Rooyen Nov 23 '12 at 7:13
    
Very entertaining, informative and well written answer. –  spiceyokooko Dec 12 '12 at 20:18
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