From John McIntyre:
At Testy Copy Editors.com, a worthy colleague, Nessie3, posted this headline:
Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms
(If this seems a bit opaque, and it should, the story is about a young violinist whose career has prospered since the death of her father in a Japan Airlines crash in 1985.)
A quick response by subtle_body suggested that crash blossom would be an excellent name for headlines done in by some such ambiguity — a word understood in a meaning other than the intended one. The elliptical name of headline writing makes such ambiguities an inevitable hazard.
And danbloom was quick to set up a blog to collect examples of "infelicitously worded headlines."
Chris Waigl, reporting on the same neologism, describes "crash blossoms" 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." Indeed, when such infelicitous headlines have come up here on Language Log, they have typically been discussed as examples of "garden path sentences." After the break, a recent headline of the classic "garden path" variety.
On Sunday night, this headline appeared on the CNN Wire before events took a more tragic turn:
The lede graf of the story explained:
Three people missing Sunday after large ocean waves knocked several people into the Atlantic off Maine's Acadia National Park have been located, a park official said.
(The headline and lede graf were quickly replaced after news emerged that one of the three people, a 7-year-old girl, had died.)
As John McIntyre points out, headlines are particularly susceptible to improper "garden path" parsing, since the elliptical nature of headlinese can lead to various syntactic ambiguities. In this example, we're so used to copula deletion in headlines that "3 missing…" is easily parsed as "3 are missing…" But by the time we get to "located" at the end of the headline, we discover that this is a misparsing. Following the structure of the lede, the headline is intended to be read as "3 [people] missing after waves hit Maine [have been] located." I'd be impressed if anyone got that reading the first time through.
For more garden path headlines, see:
- "Garden paths at the Guardian" (9/21/2004)
- "Surprising crocodile kin" (1/26/2006)
- "Linguist thought able to read isn't" (7/16/2006)