The power of collocation

I know, I said I was trying not to post any more crash blossom headlines, but this one, from the NPR site today, has an interesting feature:

Chinese Labor Practices Sour Apple Consumers (link)

It’s the sour apple piece that causes the problem; otherwise, the headline would be unremarkable.

(Hat tip from Benita Bendon Campbell.)

Real-world knowledge would lead you quickly to Chinese labor practices as the subject, sour as the verb, and Apple consumers as the direct object — except for the fact that sour apple (Adj + N) is a common collocation and grabs your attention, even though the (syntactically possible) interpretation with Chinese labor as the subject, practices as the verb, and sour Apple [or apple] consumers as the direct object is preposterous. (Chinese as the subject, labor as the verb, and practices sour Apple consumers just resists interpretation, as of course does Chinese labor practices sour as the subject, apple as the verb, and consumers as the direct object).

3 Responses to “The power of collocation”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Michael Palmer in Facebook:

    It’s all in the punctuation: “Chinese Labor Practices Sour, Apple Consumers!”

  2. nick Says:

    This is less problematic for British readers, since the British verb would be ‘practises’ with an s. 🙂

  3. Les enfants et les expressions idiomatiques « Lubies lexicales Says:

    […] lisant sur les collocations, les expressions idiomatiques et les extensions métaphoriques, un souvenir d’enfance m’est […]

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