It’s just four letters long and loaded with salacious meaning, but could the word “perv” be the greatest word in the tabloid lexicon?

According to Slate, everyone who reads New York’s tabloids knows the city is teeming with pervs:

Over the last eight years—as far back as Nexis covers the Post—the New York Post has woven the word perv into the heds of at least 642 stories and the word pervert into another 59. That’s almost 90 a year. Working as a slightly slower clip, the city’s Daily News has published at least 163 perv heds (29 pervert heads) in the past four years. That’s about 48 a year, which makes the Daily News half as perv-minded as the Post.

“Perv” is a deliciously malleable word. According to Slate’s Jack Shafer, “the Post naturally bestows the hed on rapists, paedophiles, molesters, and collectors of child pornography. But also describes suspected peepers, fondlers, touchers, flashers, obscene callers, hidden-camera artists, slaves to dominatrixes, and foot lickers as pervs.”

But the real game is the headline. “The Post rarely uses many more words in the bodies of its perv stories than it does the heads, with few exceeding 250 words,” says Shafer. “Fake-Gyno Perv Gets 6 Months” from last May spends only 56 words, informing readers that the bogus doc “lured women to motel rooms to perform fake exams.” 

The tabloid universe across the Atlantic is also pretty “perv” infested. Type “perv” into the London Sun’s search engine and Britain’s leading anthropologists (headline writers) have identified frightening array of “perv” subspecies including the:

Foot Perv

Net Perv 

Middle Class Perv

Yank Perv

School Perv

Perv Doc

Perv DJ

Perv King

Perv Sir

Loo Perv

Perv Priest

Killer Perv

The sub-editors at the Sun are also fond of headlines warning unwary readers to look out for sneaky pervs and dob them in. 

And The Sun search engine also offers some helpful figures charting the perv’s inexorable rise. In 2002 there were only 44 mentions of pervs in the red top, followed by 57 in 2003; 84 in 2004; 79 in 2005; and a whopping 111 so far this year.

Strangely the “perv” epidemic appears to be yet to hit Australia. A search of the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun reveals just two mentions of pervs in the past six months.

Sounds like there’s a real opening for perverts.