The BBC World Service used to sign off its late-night broadcast by saying, "This is the end of the world news." Anthony Burgess was listening one night and parsed it a little differently, hearing "the end of the world" as a compound adjective. It became the title of one of his most interesting novels, The End of the World News.
I was once involved in planning a conference to be held in Dallas, Texas. We were trying to work out conference logistics and decide which hotel would be best, and I kept pointing out that Dallas really had two airports, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Love Field. Annoyed, my boss at the time said, "David, listen, that's true, but keep this in mind: Love is a small airport."
That stopped me dead, because it sounded so proverbial. Love is a small airport. How true, one says, nodding, how true that is!...people come and they go, no one really dwelling there, and you have to buy overpriced items you really don't want to break the monotony, and...until one stops and says, "Hunh?" It flows easily into a title, though I'm not sure what novel it ought to squat atop: Love is a Small Airport.
A couple of years ago, my friend Kimberly was telling me about a date she went on; the guy decided it would be unique and romantic to take her whale-watching. I'm not sure how romantic the idea is, though the whales at the time were heading south to Baja to congregate at their birthing grounds in Scammon's Lagoon. I guess it depends on where pregnant whales rank on your eroto-meter.
Whether or not you find gravid cetaceans arousing, the date was sort of a bust, since no whales showed up to be watched. In the middle of describing this minor debacle, she started a sentence with, "So, in the absence of whales, we..." at which point I totally lost the thread of her discourse. In the Absence of Whales. Or perhaps Love in the Absence of Whales. How about Whales in Absentia? What the hell, maybe Harry Potter and the Absence of Whales.
I have a stock of other odd proverbial and/or titular phrases people have dropped around me. And I find that many of my chapter titles--at least for the novels where I use chapter titles--come from something a character has said in that chapter's dialogue.
Suspense writer Stuart Woods's explained on Backstory how he came up with his best title ever when he encountered an ad for a trained Labrador Retriever: Excellent Working Bitch. Inspired by the title, he wrote a book to match. Sad to say, although his editor took the book under that title, he eventually had a meeting with the CEO of HarperCollins who made him uderstand that while he had the right under his contract to use that title, he could expect less-than-enthusiatic support from their publicity department unless he changed the title. Hence his novel Orchid Beach. (I'm morally certain that's also how Jincy Willett's hilarious Winner of the National Book Award came about: title first.)
Do you do this--find yourself stumbling across phrases and wanting to turn them into titles, even though you have no corresponding book in mind?