What is Trump demanding now?

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Here's a nice crash blossom (that is, a difficult-to-parse ambiguous headline) noted on Twitter by The Economist's Lane Greene, with credit to his colleague James Waddell. In The Financial Times, a promotion of an article inside (a "reefer" in newspaper-speak) is headlined: "Trump demands dog 'Dreamers' deal."

The headline for the article as it appears online is: "Trump's demands temper hopes of immigration deal." And the lede explains: "The prospects for a bipartisan deal to protect 800,000 immigrants brought to the US illegally as children are facing new doubts as Donald Trump pushes a hardline list of immigration and border security demands to Congress as a condition for his backing."

As Lane observes, the ambiguity is set up by the use of demands as a plural noun and dog as a verb, when it's quite easy to go down the garden path thinking demands is a verb and dog is a noun. So a casual reader might think Trump is demanding a "dog 'Dreamers' deal" (and since this is a British newspaper, such a noun pile isn't out of the question). Alternatively, he could be demanding that "dog 'Dreamers'" have to deal with something.

The ambiguity is helped along by a couple of journalistic expediencies. First, in the intended reading, the subject of the sentence is the noun phrase "Trump demands." There would be no ambiguous reading if it simply read "Trump's demands," as in the headline to the online article. But given the space requirements for the "reefer" headline, there might not have been room for that extra "'s" in print.

We can also blame the terseness of headlinese for the verb dog, which lends itself well to crash-blossom readings — see, for instance, Mark Liberman's 2015 post about the Reuters headline, "China Nov inflation edges up, but deflation risks dog economy." The structure of "deflation risks dog economy" closely mirrors "Trump demands dog 'Dreamers' deal," with an intended reading of N-N V N ambiguously flipping to N V N-N, thanks to the use of dog as a verb. As Jonathon Owen commented on the 2015 post, "I think we can add the verb 'dog' to the list of words that journalists use that nobody else uses."



9 Comments »

  1. Jon said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 12:26 am

    Reminds me of one I saw long ago in a little book of headline clippings:
    Voodoo Dogs Flying Doctor's African Planes

  2. GH said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 4:16 am

    I'm imagining Trump in one of those "dogs playing poker" paintings, telling the Chihuahua to deal.

  3. ajay said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 4:45 am

    Voodoo Dogs Flying Doctor's African Planes

    This is simply beautiful and demands to become, at the least, a Studio Ghibli film.

    "China Nov inflation edges up, but deflation risks dog economy."

    As noted there, this is a very credible crashblossom because a "dog economy" really sounds like an actual piece of slang. Not only do we already have bull and bear markets, and "dog" is already a slang term for something of poor quality, but the BCG Growth/Share Matrix http://netmba.com/strategy/matrix/bcg/ divides products into cash cows, stars, question marks and dogs (with low growth and low market share).

  4. ajay said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 5:22 am

    And here's another one from the FT today:
    "Theresa May braced for a fall as Brexit tests loom".

    Ah, yes. Very classical. The idea that May's hubris will soon be punished by the Fates, who are just double-checking that their loom works OK before they start weaving the web of her ineluctable destiny…

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 11, 2017 @ 8:14 pm

    I imagine a dog economy is one in which only dogs dare to dream.

  6. Graeme said,

    October 12, 2017 @ 4:43 am

    Regardless of syntactical infelicities, I predict a dog of a deal.

  7. Ken Morrison said,

    October 13, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

    Dreams dogs dreamed, or dreams dogs dreamed dogs dreamed?

  8. Mark S said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 7:33 am

    "Trump Campaign Promises Tracker"
    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/376332112598112818/

    What are they promising to track?

  9. BZ said,

    October 16, 2017 @ 11:49 am

    There is also the fact that the verb "dog" is a lot less common than the noun

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