Archive for the ‘Headlines’ Category

Background knowledge

April 27, 2014

On April 25th, on ADS-L, from Pat O’Conner (of, under the heading “A crash blossom for the ages”:

Dare you to decipher this one, from Reuters (London) on April 16th:

“Stuttering Man City Held by Bottom Side Sunderland”

Pat translates:

“Man City” is Manchester City, a football (soccer) team (or “side”). Sunderland is another; it plays in the lowest league (“bottom”).


Pesky capitalization

April 12, 2014

From Chris Waigl on Facebook, this image of a headline.

Among the most common functions of initial caps are marking the first word of a sentence and marking proper names. Both are, at least at first, here. But the ‘annoying memorabilia’ interpretation is very unlikely. Then you need to know that Johnny Pesky was a baseball player — a fact immediately made clear in the body of the story,

Cannibal rats

January 25, 2014

An enormously entertaining headline, from the Plymouth (England) Herald on January 23rd:

Ghost ship full of cannibal rats could be about to crash into Devon coast

(Plymouth is in Devon.)

The story sounds too delicious to be true, and apparently it’s not. Still, the image of a ghost ship full of cannibal rats is haunting.


Headline news

December 28, 2013

Two headline items, one definitely linguistic, the other entertaining mostly because of the content.


Grotesque crash blossom

October 31, 2013

From Chris Waigl, this headline from a story in the Fairbanks (AK) Daily News – Miner of 10/30/13:

Man who bought pets later found roasted, eaten in Denali Park still unknown

The bold-faced PSP phrase can be understood in either of two ways:

(1) as a reduced VP with subject man who bought pets, with the copular verb was omitted, as is common for copular verbs in the headline register; or

(2) as a postmodifier (a “reduced relative clause”) for pets — so ‘pets who were later found roasted, eaten in Denali Park’.

If you start parsing the sentence as in (1), then you’re brought up short at the end of the bold-faced phrase; you’ve been led down the garden path. Then you have to go back and re-parse, to be about to incorporate the still unknown (now as a VP with omitted copular verb) into the interpretation. In the body of the story:

Whoever bought pets at a Fairbanks pet store and then apparently roasted and consumed them just inside Denali National Park has not been identified.

According to Chris,

There’s some debate in the comments of our local paper regarding whether this headline is misleading.

Chris speculates that different people have different favored parsing strategies — producing the debate over whether the headline is misleading.

This week’s best title in an academic journal

May 21, 2013

In a mailing from the Association for Psychological Science, an abstract for this fascinating-sounding article (by Yigal Attali) in Psychological Science (April 29, 2013):

Perceived Hotness Affects Behavior of Basketball Players and Coaches

Ah, you ask, whose perceived hotness? And perceived by whom? Many people think that basketball players are hot hot hot, and I assume the players know this, so it might well affect their behavior.

Oh, not that kind of hot. [Emily Litella mode] Never mind.


NY Post headlines

May 16, 2013

From the New York Post:

(On Weinergate, see here.) Widely reported on the net. Surely intentional. This is the Post, after all. Now from the same source, we get this double-entendre paraphrase of Weiner’s words:

What the story said:

Anthony Weiner was still playing coy yesterday about entering the mayoral race, but if he gets in, he said, he intends to be a real contender.

“If I decide to run, it’s because I think I can win,” he told reporters outside his Park Avenue South apartment. Anthony Weiner was still playing coy yesterday about entering the mayoral race, but if he gets in, he said, he intends to be a real contender.

“If I decide to run, it’s because I think I can win,” he told reporters outside his Park Avenue South apartment.

Three headlines

October 25, 2012

Headlines notable for their ambiguity, or difficulty, in parsing, are a regular feature of Language Log and occasionally of this blog. But there are other ways for headlines to stand out; for instance, otherwise dead metaphors can be revivified by context, as in my first example.

And there are several ways in which (potential) ambiguity can contribute to difficulties for the reader. Below I look at two specific examples, of different types.


Brief notice: headlines

October 6, 2012

Yesterday’s posting on ambiguity in headlines looked at:

Racing star could prove Einstein’s theory

which for a moment I didn’t interpret correctly (with racing star‘ (astronomical) star that is racing’), since I was hung up on racing star ‘a (figurative) star in/of/for racing’.  The puzzle is about my mental processes: why didn’t I see the intended interpretation, when it was so clearly signaled by the content of the headline and by the accompanying photo? (Most people probably got the inteded interpretation right off.)

Then in the NYT yesterday, a teaser headline on p. 1:

Fraud Claims Dog Operative

which I read, at first, as having the subject fraud, the verb claims, and the direct object dog operative (a N + N compound: ‘operative that is a dog’), while the intended interpretation has the subject fraud claims, the verb dog, and the direct object operative. Again, many people will have zoomed right in on the intended interpretation, but apparently I was reluctant to posit the verb dog ‘follow closely and persistently’ (which does occur in ordinary text, but finds its natural home in headlines, because of its brevity).

That poor dog operative, done in by fraud. With the assistance of my mental processes.


February 6, 2012

There are some topics I keep coming back to, often with reservations about whether I’m just piling up more and more examples of familiar types and falling into the temptation to accumulate all the instances of this type — an impossible goal. In a few cases, I’ve asked people not to send me more data (I really don’t need any more examples of the snowclone The New Y, as in Pink is the new black) or to send me cases only if they’re especially interesting: for instance, two-part back-formed verbs (latest: to recess appoint, to pleasure read, to pinpoint-strike), portmanteaus (they tend to come up in all sorts of contexts; see mocktail, here), crash blossoms (in the last week, one posting on this blog and two on Language Log), and noun pileups (last posting here a week ago).

The danger is completism, the urge to completeness or comprehensiveness.



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