In a NYTimes Headline I came across this:

"The Big Liar and His Losing Little Liars"

why not use "loser" instead of "losing" I mean isn't it the sense little liars that lose??

3 Answers 3


Good question, with a well-chosen example!

It is common for a newspaper headline to be written so as to play with exactly the kind of ambiguity the one you have quoted demonstrates. The headline writer wants the reader to ask, "Are they talking about the little liars failing to win their elections, or are they suggesting that they are useless wasters? Or is it perhaps both?"

To which, we might imagine the headline writer's response to be an unhelpful, "Yes. Exactly. Good question!", while nodding and grinning with pleasure in seeing that their headline had precisely the impact they intended.

The most skillful headline writing can often come close to being poetry, where both literal and figurative meanings wrestle with each other for the reader's attention. The best response can often be to simply enjoy the artistry, perhaps with an appreciative attitude of, "Ah. I see what you did there!"

  • 4
    I think you've hit the nail on the head here! We're often dismissive of "headlinese" on ELL because it plays fast & loose with standard grammar (and sometimes, "clarity"). But of course, headlines are almost never intended to be accurate - they're intended to catch your attention in hopes you might read the actual article under the headline. (And maybe you'll be so impressed you take out a subscription to the newspaper! :) Nov 30, 2022 at 19:24
  • little liars means insignificant idiots here. And losing means they lost in the midterms.
    – Lambie
    Nov 30, 2022 at 22:16

The choice of which word to make an adjective and which a noun ("lying losers" vs. "losing liars") has some connotation about which characteristic is more permanent or defining in a way. By calling them "losing liars", the implication is that they are liars through-and-through, who happen to be currently losing at something, but not that they are necessarily always losers. If the phrase was "lying losers" instead, it would suggest that they are perennial losers who are currently lying.

The implication here is that these people are (and always have been) liars, who are currently losing at something. Depending on the context, the state of losing may be temporary (they could win a future contest), but the phrasing suggests they will always be liars. These are people defined by their lying who happen to be losing, rather than people defined by their losing who happen to be lying.


Little liars that lose [something: an election?] can be called "losing liars"

However, in the article, those little liars are probably also losers in the slang sense: He is such a loser. [someone who does not amount to much]

  • The losing side in the soccer game was [country name].

losing is an adjective, loser is a noun.

Bear in mind that the noun loser is slightly different. You many lose a championship but not be a loser in the slang sense of the word.

Loser vs. winner is not slang, but in a headline one would use the adjective and not the noun. They could have used: his little loser liars but it sounds less formal and more slangy and thus loses some of its impact.

The liars are those who were election deniers and themselves failed to get elected:

Most election deniers who lost last week have conceded and did not claim fraud. That doesn’t absolve them from embracing Trump’s Big Lie in the first place.

Reprinted in that link but Originally from The New York Times

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