Crash blossoming: Doctor Who as abortionist

A headline sighting reported on Facebook yesterday

— Wendy Thrash:

— AZ > WT: A lovely garden-path example (as they are known in the trade) — made worse by the line break in your posting (Doctor Who / Performed Abortion …)

Newspaper headlines, with their compressed, trimmed-down format, make a rich ground for garden pathing; garden-path headlines are then some of the most remarkable specimens of the type — so remarkable that they’ve gotten their own label: crash blossoms (after an exemplary species).

I will explain.

Garden paths and crash blossoms. My 9/5/14 posting “garden pathing” has an explanation of garden pathing from Wikipedia — but also, more entertainingly, gives one from the Dinosaur Comics of 11/25/03:


The interpretation you’ve built up as the sentence is proceeding (down the garden path) — in which that horse is racing past the barn — turns out not to be the intended one; more material appears, and you’re balked, because you don’t know what to do with it.

Then, my 5/2/18 posting “A Brokavian crash blossom”, about this example —


From Ben Zimmer on LLog, on 8/26/09, “Crash blossoms”: Chris Waigl … describes “crash blossoms” [like the attested “Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms”, about a violinist whose father died in a Japan Airlines crash and whose career has since prospered] as “those train wrecks of newspaper headlines that lead us down the garden path to end up against a wall, scratching our head and wondering what on earth the subeditor might possibly have been thinking.”

(Crash blossoms are headlines that invite garden pathing, a form of premature closure in parsing that reveals a temporary ambiguity in the unfolding sentence.)

A crash blossom in full flower and then largely averted by orthographic practices or other material in the context. We start with WT’s example, here from a HuffPost story of 11/3/22:

Doctor Who Performed Abortion On 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Sues Indiana AG (#4)

The HuffPost headline style calls for initial caps on the words in a head, so that #4 begins with Doctor Who, which looks like a proper name — the name of the tv character. (Consequently, Doctor Who would be read out loud with primary accent on the second, head, element Who.)

Other sources prefer lowercasing in headlines, which makes the garden pathing considerably harder; from a USA Today story of 11/3/22:

Doctor who performed abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim sues Indiana AG over records (#5)

(Now we clearly have the relativizer who, which would normally be read out loud with accent subordinated to its immediately preceding antecedent, Doctor.)

Finally, still other sources have Indiana doctor who…, which further defeats garden pathing (doctor is now clearly just a common noun, and who is clearly the relativizer); from a UPI story of 11/3/22:

Indiana doctor who performed abortion on 10-year-old rape victim sues AG (#6)

(I am, however, entertained by the idea of a Doctor Who from Indiana. Doctor Whoosier, or something like that.)



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