Briefly noted: misreading a head

Occasionally I post some observation about language only to Facebook rather than to this blog (with a link from Facebook), when I think the observation is inconsequential. But it usually turns out that readers find more to say on the topic.

So on the 31st, I noted (in “Annals of headline reading”) that I read what I took to be:

(1) A Plan for Less Trash: Turn New Yorkers Into Composers

(a peculiar idea, but the pull of the familiar word composer overrode the oddness of the thought) for the actual headline:

(2) A Plan for Less Trash: Turn New Yorkers Into Composters

(which makes a great deal more sense).

This encouraged readers to play with the morphological resources of English.

Michael Palmer noted that (2) could have been framed as:

(3) … Turn New Yorkers into Decomposers

with decomposer ‘someone or something that causes things to decompose’ (not ‘someone oir something that decomposes’). And he got an earnworm of Tattoo (from tv’s Fantasy Island):  “De composer! De composer!”.

[Added later: I see now that I omitted one important step in the progression here, Jeff Goldberg saying that he would have expected

(3′) … Turn New Yorkers into Compost.

instead of (3). This idea leads into Chris Hansen’s response:]

Chris Hansen went to “Soylent Green is compost!”.

Chris Waigl recalled Monty Python on decomposing composers, on YouTube here.

Michael Palmer followed with yet another association, saying that he was all for turning New Yorkers into compositors.

Noting the recurrence of Michael Palmer in these comments, I offered [without credit, or apologies, to Geoffrey Chaucer]:

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

And John Lawler went back on-topic to composter and its cousins, saying he was reminded

of the greatest home appliance of the 20th century: The Garbage Compactor, which miraculously turns 20 pounds of garbage into … 20 pounds of garbage.

So: composter, composer, decomposer, compositor, compactor.

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