Finger me not

This headline, when paired with the picture, gives the impression of …

I don’t really need to say it, do I?

A Murdochism.

You were thinking of something dirty, weren’t you? Shame on you!

Actually, a hearty congratulations to you. If only the Wall Street Journal editors had had the same thinking.

I was thinking of something dirty, too, but I chose not to say it. But I did think of this as a Murdochism, the sort of thing you see in Rupert Murdoch’s publications.

When the News Corp. took over the Journal in late 2007, Murdoch tried to assuage doubtful employees at the Journal, saying he wanted to improve the newspaper.

Somehow fingering billionaires doesn’t seem to fit into the improvement category, but I’m willing to consider it an anomaly for now.

I did some checking and found that “fingering” people in headline hasn’t been a trend. Since Murdoch bought the Journal, it has published some “finger-pointing” headlines and one “Finger-Picking Good” headline (about musicians).

In the few years before Murdoch (B.M.?), there was also a fair amount of finger-pointing, along with finger-licking and finger-crossing. Going back further, I found finger-printing and finger snapping, gnarled fingers and flying fingers, aching fingers, artificial fingers, tricky fingers, burned fingers, walking fingers, fingers on the pulse, “finger men,” and a warning in 1975 of the “Frisbee Finger,” a blister caused by playing too much Frisbee.

Between World War I and World War II, there were headlines with fingers in pies, fingers on maps, fingers crossed, dirty fingers spreading germs, finger-tip gearshifts, finger exercises, robotic fingers, fingers in dikes, smudged fingers, sticky fingers, light fingers, fingers that beckoned, fingers that were lifted, raised in warning or put into eyes. There was “finger tip control,” lady fingers and a “Five Finger Plan of Easing Hollywood Traffic,” (1929). In 1957, the Journal wrote of “The Federal Finger,” which was something akin to the “invisible hand.”

The earliest use of “finger” I could find in a Journal headline was in 1906: “Twisting a $5 Bill in Two: Milwaukee Bank Cashier Says It Cannot Be Done by the Fingers.”

That article recounted the tale of a cashier who demonstrated the elasticity of paper money by twisting a $5 bill and then handing a $1,000 bill to a customer and telling him he could have it if he could twist it in half. (He couldn’t.)

These were more innocent times, you see. Cashiers could safely hand over $1,000 bills to customers for parlor games and billionaires didn’t have to worry about being fingered.

I was about to declare this week’s fingering of the billionaire the first fingering in a Wall Street Journal headline, but then I found the two above (from 1984) and the two below (from 1990 and 1992).

So this week’s headline isn’t a Murdochism, after all. Still, I’m thinking the Journal should adopt a new slogan:

“The Wall Street Journal: Fingering people since 1984.”

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