Grotesque crash blossom

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.

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