As if New York Mets fans don't have to suffer enough, what with the five straight losing seasons and the embarrassing bullpen meltdown in yesterday's home opener, this headline (tweeted by Mark Fishkin) appeared in today's Wall Street Journal:
— Mark Fishkin (@MarkFishkin) April 1, 2014
The online version has the same crash blossom in the subhead: "Mets Blow a Save and Fan 18 Times in Opening Loss." [Update: It's now been changed online to read, "Mets Blow a Save, Strike Out 18 Times in Opening Loss."] If the unfortunate ambiguity is lost on you, consider the two possible readings. In the intended reading, there are conjoined predicates indicating that the Mets blew a save and also "fanned" (struck out) 18 times:
[Mets blow a save] and [(Mets) fan 18 times]
The crash-blossom-y reading relies on the rhetorical figure known as "syllepsis," aka "zeugma," in which a word (generally a verb) pulls syntactic and semantic double-duty in an elliptical coordination. So that's:
[Mets blow a save] and [(Mets blow a) fan 18 times]
Here, "fan" is the object of the verb "blow," which can, of course, mean something completely different. This zeugmatic play with the meaning of "blow" is reminiscent of the line from the 1969 Rolling Stones song, "Honky Tonk Women": "She blew my nose and then she blew my mind." Since the verb "blew" is repeated, it doesn't quite count as a zeugma, so Arnold Zwicky suggests calling it a "zeugmoid." I talked about this zeugmoid in my Word Routes column for Vocabulary.com a couple of years ago, though I stuck to the surface meaning of nose-blowing and mind-blowing. As commenters noted, "blew my nose" could also be read as a reference to being offered cocaine, and "blew my mind" could be a veiled reference to fellatio. In the Wall Street Journal's crash blossom, there's nothing veiled about the sexual meaning of "blow."
Deadspin's comment on the headline is "commas are your friends." While most style guides would recommend against inserting a comma between two VPs in a compound predicate (e.g., here and here), in this case a comma after "save" would surely have helped.
(Hat tip, Lane Greene.)