The imparseable dream

Mark Mandel posted to ADS-L yesterday (under the heading “the imparseable dream”) with this baffling headline:

Advocate happy credit-card companies called on the White House carpet

(from the Philadelphia Inquirer of 26 April). Contemplate this for a while, and then I’ll reveal the interpretation “under the fold”.

Once he looked at the story, Mandel saw the light:

It’s a combination of standard headlinese shortcuts, deleting copula, complementizer, auxiliaries, and of course determiner (but not in the idiom “call __ on *the* carpet”): AN advocate IS happy THAT credit-card companies HAVE BEEN called on the White House carpet. The advocate referred to is a consumer advocate.

Language Log has occasional postings on hard-to-parse and ambiguous headlines (compendia here — “The sad task of headline writers” — and here — “Confused? Read on…”).

5 Responses to “The imparseable dream”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    I actually parsed it correctly after about 2 seconds… Read enough headlines and it gets easier.

  2. Ian Preston Says:

    I read “advocate happy” as a new term for “litigious” and thought credit-card companies were being carpeted for taking debtors to court too readily.

  3. Chris Waigl Says:

    Zut. I read it in a similar way Ian Preston did, but thought “advocate-happy” meant something like “lobbying in an inappropriately intense manner”.

  4. The Ridger Says:

    If they’d hyphenated “advocate happy” I’d have read that, too, but they didn’t – and since they did hyphenate “credit-card” it didn’t steer me wrong.

    That’s probably giving them too much credit.

  5. Another imparseable dream « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] imparseable dream By arnoldzwicky The headlines roll on. Here’s another, from John Baker on ADS-L, 5/7/09, who found it in a mutual fund […]

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