I said that out loud, didn’t I?

Several years ago, when I was first starting out as a professional writer, I received the opportunity to work for a couple of monthly science magazines published by the American Chemical Society. Eager to impress and excited at the thought of seeing my name bylined, I dove into every project with relish…and apparently very little forethought.

A regular ritual at the magazines was for the entire editorial staff to sit down every couple of weeks and hammer out the best headlines for each of the next issue’s articles. Rather than leave the job to the individual writers, my Editor felt this was the best way to get the best ideas. In principle, I agree with him, although you also have to be wary of sliding into group-think, where the lowest common denominator wins…but I digress.

In the first such meeting in which I was invited to participate—second week on the job—we were trying to come up with a title for the health article, which discussed the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia and the fact that many women with the infection didn’t know they had it. After listening to a couple really boring titles, I decided to show how clever and punny I was, and chose to riff off the title of a movie that was popular at the time.

Chlamydia. A quiet killer. It was obvious.

Silence of the Clams!

Silence of the editorial meeting, more like. My Editor looked at mean, turned his head sideways, and said “You’re serious.”

Oh, oh. Something’s gone wrong. Something doesn’t make sense. Why is everyone looking at me like that? Why is…? Oh, shit.

Luckily, everyone in the office thought it was funny, probably more because of the look on my face rather than any inherent amusement. But that’s the point. I kept the job and wrote much better headlines—or at least more acceptable ones—for several more years.

Since that day, I have instituted (if only for myself) what I call “the 12-year-old boy rule”.

Basically, if you want to print anything, you should always say it out loud in front of a 12-year-old boy, and if he even so much as smirks, there is something salacious in your idea and you really need to rethink it.

Still, every once in a while, I wonder if I couldn’t make that title work (other than for porn).

And of course, I am still addicted to puns, much to the chagrin of most people who know me.

6 thoughts on “I said that out loud, didn’t I?

  1. We have an entire door in our newsroom dedicated to headlines — good or bad — that reporters have been contributing to since the late 70s. If you had been able to go with your Silence of the Clams, it would have been a part of our shrine. Excellent work 😉

    • Cheers…I moved into advertising later and had so much fun coming up with novel uses of the birth control NuvaRing (although I must say, I appreciated SNL’s take with NuvaBling).

      I’m hoping to post something soon about brainstorming and will make reference back to this.

      Love your blog, by the way.

  2. RCW LMAO.
    I Work at Home Depot. My boss asked be to build a display for a new toillet that we were carrying. I knew he would come in before the store opened. So I built the display at the front door and put a GIANT sign on it that said “You will be Pumped, About Your Next Dump” He had a Good sense of humor, but he had the sign removed before the store opened the next day

    Also we sell a fertilizer in the garden dept. called “Milorginite” It is actually made from human shit. I put a sign on that that said “100% Corn Free” I told no one i did it and it stayed there for 3 weeks

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