Ban bid taxi hire train wreck word salad crash blossom

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Professor Simon Kirby (the world's only Professor of Language Evolution) regards himself as pretty good at parsing headlines on the whole, but saw one recently that completely stumped him. I agree with him; it's worse than a crash blossom, it's positively a train wreck, a scattered mess of uninterpretable short words almost all capable of more than one interpretation, the whole apparently signifying nothing. See if you can recover any reasonable meaning for this headline without reading the story:

Council hires ban bid taxi firm

The words are nearly all ambiguous in grammatical category. Writing Nsg for a singular noun, Vpl for a verb in plural agreement form, and so on, we have at least these part-of-speech-tagging possibilities:

Council hires ban bid taxi firm
Nsg Vsg
or Npl
Nsg
or Vpl
Nsg
or Vpl
Nsg
or Vpl
Nsg or
Adj

So that is a potential 1 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 = 25 = 32 possibilities of analysis to play around with, before we even start looking at bracketing. Simon struggled with several of them. He reports:

Initially, I went for the most plausible subject, council, but couldn't make any sense of an object of hires starting with ban… . I think I was derailed for a while by thinking my confusion must be due to hires being a noun rather than a verb, giving council hires as a fairly headlinish subject (i.e. the staff the council had hired), but then try as I might, I couldn't make bid taxi firm an object of ban. I then, foolishly, considered council hires ban as an even more plausible subject (i.e., this story was about the council being banned from hiring). This, of course, gives bid as a thoroughly impossible main verb, not least because it fails to agree in number… Hmmm…

The beauty of this headline is that the first, most likely, selection for subject and verb are actually the correct ones, and the reanalysis has to start with reconsidering ban, to find a way of interpreting ban bid as a modifier to taxi firm.

These writers must do it for sport, right?

I don't know if they do it for sport or out of incompetence or out of desperation and lack of column width. But they do set us some difficult conundrums.

Simon's research group works partly on the question of how a species that didn't know how to communicate propositionally at all (our last non-articulate hominin ancestor) developed into a species that can solve conundrums of this sort all the time, in milliseconds, both while listening to speech and while reading prose, grinding to a halt (as in this particular case) only very, very rarely. It's not going to be an easy investigation.

If you want to check your guess as to what structure the headline actually had, and what it meant, you can see the story here.



58 Comments

  1. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

    Almost got it, but almost makes a big difference. I thought the taxi firm was trying to impose some kind of ban on somebody (e.g. a competing company?). But then, I'm not a "native speaker".

    BTW, it's sweet how this post follows the previous one where all the examples were perfectly cromulent syntactically… Was this intentional?

    [Everything on Language Log is intentional. We think about your needs night and day, planning and preparing treats for your eyes. I am just so glad that you appreciate it. It makes it all worthwhile. —GKP]

  2. army1987 said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

    So, I read "Council hires"… Subject plus verb, I think. I get to the "ban"… No, something must be wrong. I reach for my dictionary to check whether "hire" can be a noun… Yes, it can. OMG. I read the whole thing in my mind, and "ban bid ta-" sound more like onomatopoeias than actual words. I feel my brain is about to go on strike, but I decide that I *must* get it. But then I give up.

  3. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

    Funny, I got it immediately, and couldn't find any sensible alternative to my reading. I still thought I must be wrong until I read the original story.

  4. mike said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

    Apparently they've changed the headline to "Council awards more work to controversial taxi firm", which is parseable without any special effort at all.

  5. Sarra said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

    logging a guess before looking: [a city] council hires [i.e. contracts to transport their employees - I think this is perfectly normal usage] a taxi firm which had attempted to ban something [I'm guessing refusing to employ immigrants? Can't be ban smoking or seatbelts. Ah, ban women who wear face veils? That sounds extremely plausible.]

    So 'Council(N) hires(V) ban bid(NP) taxi firm(NP)' wherein the last two NPs follow standard headline syntax, really. And lexis too – 'bid' barely ever means 'bid'.

    Ah bugger. Ban bid was done by council, not by taxi firm. Close but no cigar.

    I'd've said I had a leg up on this one as it was clearly BrE and that's my own dialect, but Jarek's interpretation seems to have matched mine exactly (at least syntactically!)

  6. JT said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

    I read the story, and understand what's happening. The headline's changed (as someone else noted), and I still don't know how it was supposed to be understood. Can someone provide the intended parse? My reading was that the council hires banned a bid taxi firm (which I took to mean a taxi firm that negotiated fare prices).

  7. John Cowan said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

    I still think the AmE headline CLUB FIGHT BLOCKS RAIL RIVER TUBE PLAN beats this one hands down. I don't know the source newspaper, and I can't lay my hands on the 3rd edition of Headlines and Deadlines, which is where I believe I saw it. But it's genuine.

  8. alice said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

    JT: not quite – the council hired a taxi firm that they were already attempting (bidding) to ban (deny it a licence to operate)

  9. Brian said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

    I'm with JT. I do not understand the "ban bid" noun phrase. I keep thinking it must be a mistake for "Council hires banned bid taxi firm". But what the heck is a ban bid? Did the taxi firm submit a bid on a ban?

  10. Brian said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:37 pm

    Alice: I read your explanation, and it helps … but only barely.

  11. Janice Byer said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

    I got it, too, for which I credit Language Log for evidently having taught me overtime how to decrypt crash blossoms.

  12. Jose M. Blanco said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

    I find it hard to believe that this was published in a journal that publishes in English. It's garbled beyond comprehension. It's a series of nouns piled one on top of the other although the word "ban" appears to be a verb.

  13. Chris said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

    @Brian
    1. The council are making a bid [attempt] to ban a taxi firm
    2. The council hires the aforementioned firm

  14. Henning Makholm said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

    My best hypothesis even after reading the article is that "ban" is a noun and "bid" is meant to be a past participle. But in that case, oughtn't it have been "ban-bid", with a hyphen?

  15. Mark F. said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    I basically got it except that I couldn't correctly interpret "bid" until I read the article. I thought it referred to a bid made by a company for a contract, and that the given company had been banned from bidding. But then it should have read "Council hires bid ban taxi firm" (i.e., Council hires a taxi firm subject to a bid ban, which in turn means a bid on banning).

  16. Mark Mandel said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    I couldn't make anything out of it. Then I went to the story, which now bears the headline "Council awards more work to controversial taxi firm" ("19 August 2010 Last updated at 15:42 ET"). Looks like somebody there finally looked at it.

  17. Dan T. said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

    "Firm" can be a verb as well, as in "firm up your selections".

  18. Adrian Bailey said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:40 pm

    Henning: "Oughtn't it have been "ban-bid", with a hyphen?" You mean "Oughtn't it to have been". But yes, it ought to have been. Trouble is, hyphens are dying out.

  19. John said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

    Thanks to Chris, I think I finally see how this was meant to be parsed (part of the trouble is that, as a native speaker of American English, I rarely see "[Verb] bid" in the sense of "attempt to [Verb]").

    But does anybody else find the semantic parsing of "ban bid taxi firm" extremely odd? Are there any other examples of a phrase "NP_1 NP_2" that means, "[the] NP_2 which is the target of the action denoted by NP_1"? In the UK, can you really refer to the wife of a minister who was the target of an attempted assassination as "the assassination attempt minister's wife"? This seems completely weird to me.

  20. Chris Kern said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

    "I still think the AmE headline CLUB FIGHT BLOCKS RAIL RIVER TUBE PLAN beats this one hands down"

    I can at least parse that, even though I'm not exactly sure what it means ("blocks" is the obvious verb to me, as a native AmE speaker). At first glance I could see it was some sort of fight blocking some plan, although I didn't know what a "rail river tube plan" was supposed to be until I googled.

    I'm still not sure I fully understand the original headline in this post, though. The worst one I've ever seen posted here is "SNP signals debate legal threat".

  21. Daniel Barkalow said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

    I immediately got the correct parse, and then rejected it, because I've only (previously) seen "X bid Y" as a Y attempting to (something) X. Furthermore, I expect "Z hires X' Y" to have X' be the reason that it might be scandalous for Z to hire Y, with X' being the original reason, not a parallel effect. It doesn't make sense to be outraged that they'd hire a company they were trying to ban (surprised, perhaps); it only makes sense to be outraged because the company did something bad in particular, which has to be X'.

  22. Mr Punch said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

    Like several others, I read it as about a taxi firm that had tried to ban something. Of course, I hadn't been following the story. Many crash blossoms, especially I think from British news organs, are indecipherable because casual readers are not familiar with prior coverage.

  23. Rodger C said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

    I was also interested in the article's statement that the ban bid taxi firm was transporting "vulnerable children." Am I to conclude that in Britain, or perhaps Scotland, most children are assumed to be invulnerable? (I know, I know, these must be what Americans call "at-risk children," an interesting construction in its own right.)

  24. Jonathan said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

    The headline simply doesn't distinguish between the real situation and what I (and Jarek, Sarra, etc.) made of it. The taxi firm is associated with a ban bid (a bid to ban), with no indication of whether they are bidding or under threat of banning.

  25. mgh said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

    Head stumps close read blog patrons

  26. Adrian Morgan said,

    August 22, 2010 @ 10:29 pm

    I came up with a solution almost immediately, by the following reasoning.

    (1) I looked for words that are often associated with each other, and quickly found one: "hire" is associated with "taxi".
    (2) From there, I decided that "taxi firm" must be the object of "hires", "council" the subject, and "ban bid" some sort of modifier.
    (3) All that remained was to figure out what the modifier meant. One of the dictionary definitions of "bid" is "an attempt to get something", so a "ban bid" taxi firm could be a taxi firm that attempted to get something banned.
    (4) Thus, the council hired a taxi firm that had attempted to get something banned.
    That was easy. Now I'm off to check the story.

  27. Toby said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 2:54 am

    This might be a British English thing (I'm in the UK), but I had no problem with this headline. I got it right away: the council is hiring a taxi firm that was involved in a ban bid (that is, a bid linked somehow to banning). Even after careful consideration I still struggle to come up with any plausible alternative interpretations…

    A previous commenter seemed puzzled about the possibility of 'hire' being a verb, but in the kind of English I speak it's almost always a verb. So perhaps it was more straightforward for me. I don't know.

  28. UK lawyer said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 3:28 am

    I thought I understood it straight away, but having read the above comments I am less sure. Government bodies (including local councils) contract with suppliers using a tendering (bidding) process. This process is usually compulsory under EU law. They may disqualify / ban some potential suppliers from tendering / bidding, eg for bad behaviour, perhaps after a protracted banning process. A disqualified supplier (ie one subject to a bid ban) is not allowed to bid. (Note: hyphens have largely disappeared from British English.)

    I am not sure whether the taxi firm in this case was subject to a bid ban, or the council was in the process of banning them, ie the council was bidding to ban them, as some readers have suggested.

    Despite this ban or proposed ban, the council hired the taxi firm.

  29. Julian Bradfield said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 3:56 am

    I got the intended meaning as the first attempt (apart from the detail that the Council is also the banner, which isn't explicit). Seems fairly natural to me, as headlinese goes, but I'm not a syntactician.

  30. Ben Hemmens said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:07 am

    I guessed the same as Jarek. I thought it must be the taxi firm that was trying to get something or someone banned.

  31. BlueBottle said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:22 am

    @John: That sort of construction isn't really any more typical of British English than using a comma instead of "and" is typical of American English (something that often gives me pause when reading US headlines). It seems that headline writers in our respective countries have developed differing styles; either of which can cause comprehensibility problems, if used carelessly.

  32. Leo said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:35 am

    I got it, after a few moments, or at least 80% of it – I guessed that the council had hired a taxi firm which SOMEBODY had tried (i.e. bid) to ban. But I didn't realise until I read the story that it was the council itself that had tried to ban the firm.

    It's dreadful, but it does work, as long as you realise that "bid" (noun or verb) in the context of British headlines means "attempt" – it doesn't necessarily refer to gambling. However, nobody in the real world ever uses "bid" in everyday speech in this way, so non-native speakers should not feel disappointed if they didn't get it.

    @Henning Makholm – yes, "ban-bid" would have been slightly clearer, but when do these people ever use hyphens?

  33. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:03 am

    I got the syntax right first time, but I couldn't work out the semantics until I saw the story.

    "Bid" is used a lot in British headlinese when another word ("attempt","effort","initiative"), would be clearer, becasue it is so short. So "ban bid" made sense to me grammatically as it was intended, but I just couldn't work out why a taxi firm would be associated with a "ban bid".

  34. MsH said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:12 am

    I had no problem with this at all except that I wondered for a moment whether the taxi firm had tried to ban something (a rival firm?) or someone else had tried to ban the taxi firm from being hired. The second of these is much more plausible – taxi firms tend to concentrate on taxis, whereas people try to ban councils from doing things all the time – so I went for that.

    It may matter that for me, "hires" can't be a noun, unless the newspaper is American – I would never have thought of it – so it must be the verb. "Bid" is always used in this way in headlines and it's incomplete without another word describing what someone has tried or is trying to do, so "ban bid" obviously means someone tried to ban something. Probably the story is going to say that the taxi firm was racist or something. (Looking at the story, it turns out to have been a criminal allegation about an employee).

    I found it perfectly clear.

  35. Simon Kirby said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:12 am

    It's interesting that some of you found this relatively straightforward to parse on first reading. What I like about this case is that the most accessible treatment of the first two words is actually the correct one. So the difficulty follows only if your parser dislikes "ban" and then dutifully goes back to look for another subject. It's only at this point that the sentence becomes a garden path – in fact, you're given the choice of two different ones. In other words, the object causes you to garden path yourself. So, you're either a reader with the courage of your initial convictions and then you'll find it straightforward, or you're like me and need consider the correct main verb twice before you're done.

  36. Paul said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:16 am

    "British paper word use style bid headlines confuse Yanks"

    Or, if you prefer:

    "English newspaper headlines use multiple nouns to modify nouns, confuse Americans"

    If people couldn't understand this stuff, British newspapers wouldn't print it. Many of the things which pass for newspapers in the UK are not exactly well known for respecting the intelligence of their readers. Is there really any more to many of these crash blossoms than the fact that speakers of American English find them weird? In much the same way, I (as a speaker of British English) often find American headlines weird (e.g. use of commas in place of "and"). Comments here on LL often seem to point out that this stuff is easier for Brits to understand (presumably because we're used to it) and that these headlines are pretty easy for anyone to understand once they know the context. And, it seems to me, the very place you find these headlines is in referring back to stories which are thought to be well known to the readership (e.g. Glaswegians are expected to know that there is a controversial taxi firm which has relations with the local council). I don't think the syntax exists in isolation from the people who are designed to receive it.

    Full disclosure: I guessed the banning was being suggested by the taxi firm rather than the council, but that seems to me to be an error of pragmatic context rather than of my syntactic parsing. I'm not from Glasgow and hadn't previously heard of this story. Like some other commentators, I was trying hard to see where my parse had been thrown off course, only to find that it hadn't.

    (I know that some Americans may object to the use of "Yanks" to mean all Americans; that's why I used "English" in my second example.)

  37. army1987 said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:22 am

    BTW, the original headline could be made a lot easier to parse by just adding a hyphen between "ban" and "bid".

  38. groki said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:33 am

    I am just so glad that you appreciate it. It makes it all worthwhile. —GKP

    thanks, we get it! and with every post, our appreciation appreciates!

  39. Ken Brown said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:48 am

    Brian said: I do not understand the "ban bid" noun phrase. I keep thinking it must be a mistake for "Council hires banned bid taxi firm". But what the heck is a ban bid? Did the taxi firm submit a bid on a ban?

    Tabloid Headlinese. Any attempt to do anything can be a "bid". Saves characters allowing newspapers to use even bigger type sizes. See for example Blair blackmail terror bid foiled

    I'm afraid I got it in one. The only ambiguity was whether the taxi firm was trying to ban something, or someone or someone was trying to ban it. The latter is inherently more likely. And you might guess that the council itself was trying to ban (local governments ban things more often than other entities) though the headline doesn't say (or try to say) that.

    John said: In the UK, can you really refer to the wife of a minister who was the target of an attempted assassination as "the assassination attempt minister's wife"?

    In Tabloid Headlinese you can. Its completely regular. You can pile on as many words as you want. She would be the "assasination attempt wife". If her husband had been a drugdealer rather than a minister she could even be a "hit bid wife" :-) Of course no-one ever *talks* like that.

  40. Phil said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:55 am

    I am also from the UK and made sense of it straight away (although there was ambiguity as to whether the council or taxi firm were responsible for the "ban bid"). The fact that this is a style of writing seemingly explicable only to Brits is pretty interesting.

    As for the allegedly altered headline, the BBC uses two different headlines for each article. The links to articles (from the relevant news page) have to be of a very tightly constrained length (36-38 characters from memory). When you follow the link then the actual article has a longer, more sensible headline.

  41. Alan Palmer said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 6:06 am

    It was, of course, a terribly badly-written headline, but I understood it almost immediately. As a couple of others have said, it may be an American/British English thing. It's typical of local councils that the left hand should not know what the right hand was doing, so the concept of them handing contracts to a firm that they were also seeking to deny a licence to trade is not surprising.

  42. Picky said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 6:49 am

    Absolutely no problem understanding this head – too much time spent in the thick thickets of BrE newspapers, no doubt. So straightforward does it seem to me that I can't actually grasp what anyone finds obscure about it. Such are the delights of dialect, eh? And the replacement head is so very leaden!

  43. Richard Wein said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 7:00 am

    I immediately got that the council was hiring a taxi firm to which the qualifier "ban bid" was being applied. And it took me about 10 seconds to correctly guess what this qualifier meant. The trouble is that these two words are the wrong way round. The headline should have been: "Council hires bid ban taxi firm".

    The noun "bid" qualifies the noun "ban", i.e. tells us what type of "ban" it is (a ban on bidding), not the other way around. And in these sorts of noun sequences, it's the qualifying noun which should be put first. A "ban bid" sounds like a bid for the privilege of handing out bans!

    As an example of an even longer list of qualifying nouns, I have a board game based on the book "Dune" which is described on the box as a "Space Civilization Power Struggle Game". This should clearly be parsed as (Space Civilization) (Power Struggle) Game.

  44. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 7:15 am

    I am just so glad that you appreciate it. It makes it all worthwhile. —GKP]

    Oh the gladness is mutual ;)

  45. Ken Brown said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 8:04 am

    @Richard Wein:"The headline should have been: "Council hires bid ban taxi firm"."

    No way. In this code a "ban bid" is an attempt to prohibit. A "bid ban" would be the prohibition of an attempt. Quite different.

    I honestly think there is a regularity here – there are (unwritten?) rules and these journalists are obeying them. Some kinds of word attract on modifiers in front, others behind, but each word is either one or the other.

  46. Richard Wein said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 8:58 am

    Ken,

    Yes, they're different. That's what I said. But in my opinion the headline writer did not pick the one that correctly expresses his meaning.

    Of course, I could be wrong about his meaning, but by far the best interpretation I can think of is that he's referring to the council having once banned the taxi firm from bidding for work. If you have some other plausible interpretation, I'd be interested to hear it. You seem to think he's referring to "an attempt to prohibit". Who is attempting to prohibit whom from doing what?

    Note that the linked article only uses the word "bid" in the sense of make an offer for work, and not in the broader sense of "attempt" which you want to invoke. As I suggested before, it seems implausible that the the taxi firm (or anyone else) is making an offer to do some prohibition.

    Perhaps you don't have a good alternative interpretation, and are just giving the headline writer the benefit of the doubt. Then you're more charitable than me!

  47. Henning Makholm said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 9:15 am

    To clarify my earlier post, I don't think "ban bid" is a NP. It consists of noun + pp-verb, i.e. same as "ban-proposed" (compare "flea-bitten"). The trouble is that "to bid" as a past participle becomes just "bid" (though some dictionaries also seem to accept "bidden").

  48. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 9:28 am

    Richard Wein: The use of 'bid' to mean 'attempt' is absolutely normal in headlines, but rare elsewhere. Hence one would not expect it to be found in the body of the article; but any fluent speaker of British headlinese would recognise it in the headline as meaning 'attempt', even if they could not tell whether it was a noun or a verb, or who was attempting to do what. 'Bid ban', on the other hand, would only be appropriate if the firm had already been banned from bidding, which it has not.

  49. Richard Wein said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 9:39 am

    P.S. I just took another look, and saw that the article summary does say that the council is "in the process of trying to ban" the taxi firm. So it looks like the headline is referring to an attempt to ban, as you said, Ken. My mistake. I hadn't noticed this passage before, and had the impression that the ban was already a done deal.

  50. Richard Wein said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 9:42 am

    Good point, Andrew. I'm now doubly corrected and contrite. ;-)

  51. Karen said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 10:44 am

    Beginning with the obvious "taxi firm" and the facts (?) that Council makes this British and thus "hires" must be the verb (though I pause for a moment to wonder why Council isn't taking a plural), I arrived at "the council has hired a taxi firm which is somehow involved in a bidding ban". That relative stumped me, since I didn't have the context, but I felt sure that I would have known why they were against bids had I been following the story.

    So I didn't get it right, but I think it was a "reasonable meaning for this headline".

    Of course, had I not known it was a headline, it would have been much trickier.

  52. stephen said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    I didn't read all the others before submitting my guess:

    Council hires ban bid taxi firm

    "Taxi" can be a verb–taking things from one place to another.

    A "bid taxi" transfers bids from the bidder to–wherever the bids are taken. I've never heard the term before, but that's my guess.

    A "bid taxi" firm is a company which handles bids, when other companies are bidding for a contract, for example.

    "Hires" are people who have been hired.

    The city council hired some people.

    Those people banned a company from being involved in the handling of bids.

    Does that seem plausible?

    Now I'll go see what other people guessed, then I'll read the actual story.

  53. Leo said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 11:32 am

    @Henning Makholm: I don't think "ban bid" is noun + pp-verb.

    A "flea-bitten man" is a man who has been bitten by fleas. But a "ban bid taxi firm" (according to the BBC) is a taxi firm that someone has bid [attempted] to ban. If "ban bid" were of the same construction as "flea-bitten", then a "ban bid taxi firm" would be a taxi firm that had been bid by a ban – which makes no sense at all.

    I think "ban bid" is noun + noun, and the ban bid is associated with the taxi firm – so you could even say that "ban bid taxi firm" is noun + noun + noun + noun.

  54. Anonsters said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

    OT, but I'm just wondering if you ever managed to find a publisher for Chomsky on The Enterprise. :)

  55. Richard said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

    I thought it was pretty clear that the council was hiring some taxi firm which "ban bid" modified (I didn't know what "ban bid" meant, but figured that it must be in use in the local argot).

    BTW, I'm not British and grew up in the US.

    I actually found "CLUB FIGHT BLOCKS RAIL RIVER TUBE PLAN" more confusing at first, though on a second reading, I can see that "rail river" modifies "tube plan".

  56. Gordon said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

    It's clearly all about context. There'll have been an ongoing story about some 'ban bid' or other; readers are schooled in the shorthand of their media outlet of choice, and prepared for certain sorts of stories etc. Yes, if you approach it as an outsider it's baffling. But to make a big deal of it seems facetious. It's idiotic journalism and a mangling of thought and language, yeah, but it actually is deciphered quite easily.

  57. Murugaraj said,

    August 25, 2010 @ 2:21 am

    I tried to find the source of "CLUB FIGHT BLOCKS RAIL RIVER TUBE PLAN" and googled; found there was a "discussion" on LL; followed the link only to find that it was in the comments, again by John Cowan.

  58. msH said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

    Yes – "bid" is always used in this sense in headlines so it never occurred to me that its meaning could be obscure; that and "hires" together are the pins that hold the sentence down for me and tell me how to interpret the other words. It would be interesting to try to construct a headline that used it in some other sense. I'm puzzled by the "past participle" suggestion – I'm not sure that any tense other than the present is even allowed in headlinese.

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