The Grammar of an Upworthy Headline

Here’s a great piece by Michael Reid Roberts, up at the American Reader:

Upworthy Titles Often Make a Relatively Banal Claim. Until They Change It.

The most essential grammatical tic that Upworthy employs is a bit more complex than simple word choice or sentence structure: the titles introduce a fairly typical story, idea, or theme in the first sentence, then use a much shorter sentence to complicate or undermine it. This is irritating as hell. And I think that’s the point; the second sentence piques you to resolve the irritation it causes. A quick perusal of today’s Upworthy page shows sundry examples of this construction, which range from the accusatory (There’s A World War Happening Online Right Now. And You Might Be A Mercenary In It.) to the empowering (If You Could Press A Button And Murder Every Mosquito, Would You? Because That’s Kinda Possible.).

I love the way he talks about the “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” construction:

The repetition of this clause only fills me with some vague Lovecraftian dread for the future. After all, the sentence has two elements: “you won’t believe” (disbelief, incredulity) and “what happens next” (anticipation, the future). The combination creates a tension in me that can border on the existential.

Certainly these titles (“Someone Gave Some Kids Some Scissors. Here’s What Happened Next.”) inspire existential dread: expressed best, perhaps, by Sarah Miller. [The American Reader]