Another imparseable dream

The headlines roll on. Here’s another, from John Baker on ADS-L, 5/7/09, who found it in a mutual fund industry trade publication:  

Asset Drops Fuel Expense Ratio Rise

Baker explained:

Its meaning?  Decreases in the assets under management in mutual funds (mainly because of declining prices in the stock market) have caused the funds’ expense ratios to increase.

noting that the headline is so hard to parse because four of its six words (everything except asset and ratio) can function as either nouns or verbs.

6 Responses to “Another imparseable dream”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    Now this one is genuinely impenetrable…

  2. mae Says:

    The automatic generator of related posts seems to have parsed it better than humans (that is, me, you, and the other comment writer). The automated readers at least recognized “expense ratio” as a unit.

  3. Rick S Says:

    I’m not sure why, but I parsed it correctly the first time, despite not knowing what an expense ratio is and having to guess that “asset drops” was a noun phrase. I was thinking that maybe X Fuels Y is a common headline template, or that “fuel” is more often a verb in headlines, but a brief search of nytimes.com comes up only about 50/50, and one of washingtonpost.com uniformly refutes the hypothesis. So maybe it was just a lucky guess.

  4. Ellen K. Says:

    I got that it was one thing dropping and another thing rising, but I took fuel as modifying expense, and was trying to figure out why it was asset drops instead of assets drop. After reading on, and thus from the explanation, realizing that fuel was a verb, the grammar made sense. And a demonstration that nouns can denote actions.

  5. John Baker Says:

    Note also that, of the four words that can be either nouns or verbs, the verb (fuel) is more frequently seen as a noun, and two of the nouns (drops and rise) are more frequently seen as verbs. Only one noun (expense) fills its accustomed role. It’s my intuition that, at least outside the headline context, even expense is more likely than fuel to serve as a verb, though I haven’t checked this.

  6. Peter Farrell-Vinay Says:

    All we need now is a sweet manufacturer to start a new line of “Asset drops” …

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