Crash Blossom of the day

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Benjamin Cusack, "Sex Quiz Cricket Ace in Hotel Suicide Leap", The Sun, 11/14/2011.

I think that I'm beginning to learn British Headlinese, because my first guess about this one turned out to be correct:

[Tip of the hat to Thomas Whiston]



80 Comments

  1. kktkkr said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 1:59 am

    I guessed incorrectly that Sex was a very unfortunate acronym for some group of investigators.

    Perhaps the best way to handle this is to use a heuristic like: the last possible word which can be a verb is a verb, anything which does not have a noun after it is a noun (where possible) and everything else is an adjective (where possible).

    But I'm certainly not going to read headlines backwards just to avoid crash blossoms.

  2. Rubrick said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 2:21 am

    I'm sure the cops love having an interrogation dubbed a "sex quiz".

  3. Brian said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:10 am

    I still can't read this. "Interrogation athlete in suicide" is my gloss based on the context, but this still doesn't quite make sense. Is it really describing a person being quizzed about sex a "sex quiz cricket ace"? I would expect something more like "sex-quizzed cricket ace".

  4. Joseph Simmons said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:14 am

    Perhaps I'm alone in this but what I don't understand is "in." Can you really say "cricket ace in suicide leap"? Can you be IN a suicide leap? You can MAKE a suicide leap… or is this standard Headlinese?

  5. maidhc said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:41 am

    I don't see how you could take this more than one way. "Quiz" could be a verb, but that would make "sex" the subject, which doesn't seem right. Therefore "sex quiz cricket ace" must go together. Although the wording is a bit odd. It sounds as though he was famous for appearing on some kind of odd television show.

    They could have used "charge" instead of "quiz" and it would have been clearer at only two letters more. Since the police were there to inform him he had been charged with a crime.

  6. Álvaro Degives-Más said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:42 am

    Nonsense. That's just ruthless British efficiency for you: clearly that is a story concerning an insect participant of a game show focusing on procreation knowledge who also appears to be a prodigy in daredevil jumps over hotels.

    I also believe the writer regrettably misspelled the ethnicity of the party responsible for the above ruckus; it seems a small Cossack did it.

  7. LDavidH said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:43 am

    @kktkkr: As far as I can work out, there is no verb in this headline, which is often the case in British headlinese.

  8. George said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:48 am

    Other than if one interprets 'Sex' as kktkkr initially did (which seems a bit far-fetched, particularly due to the lack of capitalisation), I just don't see this as a crash blossom at all. It's a noun pile-up, that's for sure, but does it really send the reader in a fundamentally wrong direction? I will admit that I first imagined the protagonist on a TV game show rather than being interrogated by the police but that's hardly crash blossom territory, is it?

  9. George said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:51 am

    Maidhc and I submitted our comments independently of eachother and pretty much simultaneously. We're both Irish (I assume) and it will be interesting to see if we're on our own on this.

  10. Zizoz said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 3:52 am

    I can't read it as anything other than sex quizzing a cricket player about a suicide. I am not sure how sex can quiz anyone, but there simply is no other way for me to interpret it.

  11. dw said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 5:23 am

    When I first saw this headline, I didn't think it could be a crash blossom. Surely no interpretation, other than the correct one, is possible?

    Then I read the other comments…

    Upon reflection, I think the problem may be that that "quiz" (meaning investigation/interrogation) is a heavily favored term of art in British headlinese, somewhat like "row" (meaning controversy).

  12. Nick Lamb said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 6:14 am

    I'm getting a lot more out of the list of categories on the left.

    Some are fairly normal, we shouldn't be surprised to see "Politics" or "Weather" listed, and "Forces" doesn't take more than a second glance but is "Hold ye front page" a category consisting entirely of breaking stories that involve faux old English ? Isn't it redundant to write F1 _and_ motorsport? As to "Malaria No More", I agree with the sentiment, but I do wonder how many stories the Sun could possibly run on this topic, given that its readers live in a country which doesn't have Malaria.

  13. Tim Silverman said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 6:17 am

    British me thought this headline was completely transparent until I saw the other comments …. A few points:

    My impression is that "quiz" is quite common in British headlines with the meaning "interrogation" (or "interrogate") by police. So a "sex quiz" would be an interrogation about sex—presumably sex crimes or something embarrassing.

    "Cricket ace" can only be a cricket player. So we have a cricket player involved in an interrogation about sex crimes. This only really makes sense if he is the one being interrogated.

    "In" is normal in British headlines to connect a thing or (usually) a person with an event they are involved in. I think it's an extension of the "in" in being "in" a race, a competition, an argument, a play, a demonstration or some other activity.

  14. Brian said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 6:39 am

    Thanks everyone for the explications. It looks like the absence of a verb, coupled with the use of "quiz" as an unfamiliar idiom, are what fueled the confusion, at least in my own personal case. And, it sounds like these are both due mainly to regional variants of the headlinese dialect, rather than to the sorts of ambiguities that produce a typical crash blossom.

  15. Markonsea said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 6:40 am

    @ Nick Lamb

    I was intrigued by "Hold Ye Front Page", as well, so I followed it up. It turns out to be a section giving brief summaries of stories from history, and in fact comes very close to almost justifying the rag's existence: as far as I can tell, there is no misrepresentation in them.

    Give it a gleg: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/hold_ye_front_page/

  16. Alan said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 6:59 am

    I understood it immediately but perhaps I have an advantage: my family was British working class, the target market of this paper.

  17. Sid Smith said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 7:15 am

    Peter Roebuck (the sex quiz cricket ace in question) was a journalist with a particularly overwrought writing style. Another such journo of my acquaintance has recently had a nervous breakdown. And Nabokov said, "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style."

  18. BobC said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 7:19 am

    Two things: Do the Brits (or at least Sun readers) recognize "Sex" as short for "police sex crimes unit"? And, how do you quiz someone in connection with their own suicide (which is what the headline sounds like to me)?

  19. Martin J Ball said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 7:30 am

    Like several others, I see no problem with this headline. "sex quiz" is obviously noun+noun and not noun+verb!

  20. Adrian said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 7:47 am

    As others on this side of the pond have already stated, I don't think anyone here has been led up the garden path by this headline, so I wouldn't term it a "crash blossom". Of course, as is often the case these days, a helpful hyphen is missing – it should be "sex-quiz" – but otherwise it's a common-or-garden example of British headlinese. Once again, I recommend Fritz Spiegl's book on the subject: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0330281224?ie=UTF8&tag=dadge-21&linkCode=shr&camp=3194&creative=21330&creativeASIN=0330281224

  21. J Lee said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    another american thrown by 'quiz' absurdly meaning 'criminal interrogation'

    the parsing is not such a problem

  22. Ian Preston said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 7:55 am

    Reading some of Peter Roebuck's obituaries introduced me to a peeve that I hadn't come across before. The Telegraph headlined their piece `Peter Roebuck dies, aged 55, after committing suicide.' (The same contested form of words is used within articles in The Mirror and The Independent.) Multiple commenters below the piece then object that `after' is inappropriate since he died at the same time as he committed suicide. For example:

    Can you not pay due respect by getting the headline right?

    " – – – dies, aged 55 after committing suicide"

    He died BY committing suicide.

    The factitious pedantry seems fittingly Hefferesque given the location. Has anyone ever seriously proposed a `rule' that `after' can never be used to signify contemporaneous consequence, only ever in cases of clear temporal succession? (As if you couldn't say "Roebuck was last out after being caught at short extra cover" or "Roebuck became his county's leading wicket taker after dismissing Smith" and so on.)

  23. NW said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 8:01 am

    The preposition is profligate of them. They could save valuable ink and readers' few remaining brain cells by a simple seven-noun headline Sex Quiz Cricket Ace Hotel Suicide Leap, which makes quite as much sense as the original and is satisfyingly purer.

  24. Mark Etherton said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 8:03 am

    @J Lee

    Why 'absurdly'?

  25. david said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 8:15 am

    Thanks Markonsea,

    Following that leads to the brief history of languages including interviews with linguists.

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/hold_ye_front_page/history/2774375/em100000-BCem-Mankind-talks.html

  26. Faldone said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 8:19 am

    I am an American who has apparently read too many British headlines, thanks to Language Log. I had no problem parsing the headline on first reading.

  27. Picky said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    More importantly, Peter Roebuck, though a distinguished cricketer and writer, never played for England, so the first par of the story is wrong. Headline fine, though.

  28. Ellen K. said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 9:07 am

    I'm American, and, like Faldone, familiar with British headlines from reading Language Log. I initially read "cricket" as referring to a bug, and thus imagined an elided "is" between "cricket" and "ace", giving me the reading Álvaro Degives-Más gives. That of course, doesn't make sense. Then I realized "cricket" refers to the sport, and I got the correct reading: a cricket ace connected with some sort of sex quiz took part in a suicide leap. (With "took part in" = made or did.) The nature of the sex quiz was not at all clear to me, but this did not affect parsing the headline.

  29. J Lee said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    obviously because quiz is used differently in the US, never with a serious matter like a crime, and thus its meaning is narrowed to only 'test for assessment' and the recalling of trivia. thus if they did 'quiz' a suspected rapist i would assume it meant asking about his (known to them) whereabouts or something.
    an actual 'sex quiz' on the other hand one sees every time he visits a magazine stand.

  30. AJD said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    Beginning "sex quiz" makes it look like this is going to be an extremely condensed pangram, of the "big fjords vex quick waltz nymph" type. I'm quite disappointed that it went in a different direction.

  31. RP said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    @maidhc, You suggest the word "charge" instead of "quiz" would have been clearer. But I don't think the article says anywhere that the man had been charged. It is possible to question someone without charging them first.

    @BobC, Your question suggests you're interpreting "quiz" as a verb. It's not. ("Sex" here doesn't mean sex crimes unit.)

    @George, You wrote "Other than if one interprets 'Sex' as kktkkr initially did (which seems a bit far-fetched, particularly due to the lack of capitalisation) …". Now, you may be right that it's a bit far-fetched, but not because of lack of capitalisation. It's quite common in the British press for acronyms to be spelt in proper-noun case: "Nato", for example.

  32. Skullturf said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    I'm a Canadian living in the United States. I had no problem figuring out the boundaries between nouns and verbs/prepositions — I instantly read the headline as asserting that a "sex quiz cricket ace" (whatever that is) was involved in a "hotel suicide leap". That is, a cricket player described for some reason as a "sex quiz cricket ace" has leaped to his own death from a hotel.

    But like others, I was unfamiliar with the use of "quiz" to mean "interrogation". I was wondering if he was called a "sex quiz cricket ace" because he, for example, asked his underlings inappropriate sexual questions, or something.

  33. Mark Etherton said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 10:08 am

    @ J Lee

    I can see from your explanation that this particular BrE use of quiz might be 'strange' or 'bizarre', but 'absurd' is rather strong. For my BrE part I find a sentence with 'one sees .. he visits ..' strange, but certainly not absurd – unless that word also has a different register.

  34. michael ramscar said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    roebuck was a somerset batsman who captained an england xi in two games against the netherlands in 1989. he became a cricket writer on retirement, and his success as a journalist is perhaps best gauged by the degree to which he was both strongly reviled and respected for his efforts.

    he also helped change many lives for the better:

    http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/peter-roebuck–a-tribute-from-his-first-african-son-20111114-1nfoa.html#ixzz1dmNF08hj

    it seems clear that roebuck was a complicated, very private and somewhat tortured character, and that language – writing, reading, talking – was his life.

    ironically, language seems to have helped kill him: whatever the truth of the allegations, it was exactly this kind of headline and this kind of attention that he would have wanted to avoid.

    too bad the paper eschewed a more self-referential alternative:

    "Sun Avoidant Sex Quiz Cricket Ace in Hotel Suicide Leap"

    as well as yielding an almighty crash blossom, it would have gotten to the heart of story far better.

  35. Picky said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    To return to ploughing my furrow, I should make it clear that in cricket "an England XI" is not the same as "England", and Roebuck was never picked to play for "England". But michael ramscar's general point is well made.

  36. Bob Ladd said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 11:04 am

    I'm not a native speaker of British headlinese, but I've been exposed to it for more than 25 years now and like many of the British commenters I had absolutely no problem with this headline despite not knowing anything about the background scandal. I think the correct analysis of this example is the one proposed by several commenters, namely that the problem for non-Brits lies in the usage of the words quiz and in. In other words it's a lexical problem, not a real crash blossom.

  37. RP said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    Mark Etherington made an interesting point about J Lee's expression "one… he…". As a BrE speaker, it took me a while to work out what was meant. At first I thought "he" must be referring back to the cricketer.

  38. Ken Brown said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    @Markonsea "Give it a gleg: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/hold_ye_front_page/"

    Yes, its fun. Faked Sun articles about things that happend before the paper existed.

    I especially liked "Chinese invent toilet paper" which is bylined as a "World Excloosive, by Anne Drex". It reminds me of the best ever such headline, an account of a new NASA space toilet which I guess was only in the paper as an excuse for the headline "Captain's Log".

  39. Janice Byer said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

    Am I the only Yank who guessed he'd been a cricket player once but was better known for having won big money on an XXX-rated quiz show?

  40. Joseph said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

    Canadian here, with heavy exposure to UK TV (mostly sketch shows and panel game shows). I was able to interpret all the words correctly, but their use/syntax still baffled me. Consider the lexical substitution: "Sex interrogation cricket ace in hotel suicide leap." I can make sense of the "cricket ace in hotel suicide leap," but cannot conceive "sex quiz/interrogation" to be the verb that "cricket ace" suffers. Surely, "sex quizzed cricket ace …" makes better sense? Or should I be applying for remedial lessons in British Headlinese?

  41. Brett said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

    @Janice Byer: That was pretty much my reading (except I would have guessed the quiz show was just very risque, not outright pornographic).

  42. Ken Brown said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

    There are no verbs. "sex quiz cricket ace" is a noun phrase, as is "hotel suicide leap". Its quite standard headlinese – an expansion of "interesting person" in "newsworthy situation"

  43. Ken Brown said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    @janice and Brett – if he had done well in a quiz show he'd be called a "quiz ace" or "quiz star" not a "cricket ace". For example: "Brain Rooney is a quiz ace" (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/502962/Wayne-Rooney-Star-at-quizzes-Vast-knowledge-of-TV-shows.html) or "Joey Barton’s a quiz night star" (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/bizarre/3914029/Joey-Bartons-a-quiz-night-star.html)

    The usage of "quiz" for a criminal investigation is well established usage. For example: "Rape quiz star United with Rio" (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/616709/News-Sport-Manchester-United-Rape-quiz-star-United-with-Rio.html) The reader is meant to understand that "United with Rio" tells us that someone or somethign is in some way associated with Rio Ferdinand, who plays for Manchester United (that would be common knowledge among Sun readers). "Rape quiz star" works from right to left like most headlinese noun pile-ups and tells us that a "star" is under suspicion of rape.

  44. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    @Ken Brown: But what if he were a cricket star who had done well on a sex quiz, or had written a sex quiz like the ones that J Lee mentioned, or was fond of "sledging" opponents by asking about their sex lives?

    Anyway, I read it more or less the way several other Americans did, not guessing what "quiz" was.

    I assume there will be an investigation of how the police let someone they were interrogating commit suicide. Suppose there's a controversy over the interrogation. I trust the headline will be "Sex Quiz Death Leap Quiz Cop Row".

  45. Dan Hemmens said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

    Anyway, I read it more or less the way several other Americans did, not guessing what "quiz" was.

    As a Brit, I'm totally familiar with this use of "quiz" but I never cease to be confused by it, because to me "quiz" means "friendly test of knowledge" and not "police interrogation" – except in the context of a tabloid headline, when I've sort of learned the rule by rote.

  46. maidhc said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

    RP said,
    You suggest the word "charge" instead of "quiz" would have been clearer. But I don't think the article says anywhere that the man had been charged. It is possible to question someone without charging them first.

    I have the advantage of having already read another article about this incident in a different paper. A person had filed a criminal complaint (I'm not sure of the exact legal terminology) and he was being interrogated prior to being taken into custody and formally charged. I must admit to not bothering to read The Sun's version. I think in headlinese having someone file a complaint amounts to a "charge".

    I think "charge" could be used even in cases of something not actually illegal, such as cheating on one's wife. But perhaps someone more familiar with The Sun's style could comment.

  47. Janice Byer said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    Although "charge" needn't mean legally charged, UK editors, i expect, would nix it in their duty to avoid risking language liable even to be misconstrued as libelous.

    A word that would serve in the States, at least, is "probe", one definition of which online is "a legal investigation or inquiry into questionable activities". It also means "penetrating action" thereby neatly lending itself in the context of the headline to a double entendre.

  48. un malpaso said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    It seems unnecessarily awkward to use the "in" construction here… why not "… leaps to death"? Or is Fleet Street Headlinese averse to verb constructions? I guess that would make it harder to include the detail that it was a hotel that "ace" leapt from….

  49. grackle said,

    November 15, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

    As an American, I thought that sex quiz cricket was something like strip poker, thus parsed it that an expert in this particular risque game has committed suicide

  50. Mark F said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 12:37 am

    But again, how is this a crash blossom? Where is the garden path? I just drew a blank on how to interpret the "sex quiz" part, but that's that what's supposed to happen in a crash blossom.

  51. Dw said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 1:55 am

    Here's a REAL crash blossom:

    "Energy license fines fuel industry ire"

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/68425.html

  52. LDavidH said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 3:52 am

    OK, so all this proves is what we already knew: that Britain and America are divided by a common language. Or, in headlinese: "UK-US Relations In Quiz Baffle Strain"

  53. SimonMH said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 5:09 am

    @LDavidH

    UK-US quiz definition row?

  54. J Lee said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 6:10 am

    is anyone really suggesting that 'sex quiz' was a normal way to describe the situation, despite having a specific unrelated referent, rather than merely a short attention-grabbing headline? but changing the pronoun between clauses took some mental gymnastics? how did british english come to be seen as somehow especially articulate and refined?

  55. Chris said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 7:26 am

    un malpaso: British headline writers' verb use rare

    i.e. you got it exactly. British papers often avoid verbs in headlines, even when it would seem to be both shorter and clearer to use one.

  56. Ellen K. said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 8:25 am

    @LDavidH

    "UK-US Relations In Quiz Baffle Strain"

    Is baffle a typo for battle? If not, I'm not following your headlinese.

  57. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    It's a strain, a row, in inter-Atlantic relations, caused by a baffle (bewilderment), about the construal of the word "quiz."

  58. Jon Weinberg said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 11:43 am

    This is the third time that J Lee has posted to assert that the use of the word quiz in the headline is "obviously" "absurd", and establishes that BrE as a whole is not "articulate and refined." Dude, as several people have pointed out already, it's just a lexical difference. Not only is it not absurd or inarticulate, it's not even interesting.

  59. dw said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

    @J Lee

    is anyone really suggesting that 'sex quiz' was a normal way to describe the situation

    Yes it is, in British headlinese.

    Hence that fact that many (all?) commenters here who grew up with this style of headline-writing immediately grasped the meaning, and even some who didn't grow up with it (e.g. ML) guessed the meaning correctly.

  60. Rod Johnson said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    After reading this thread, I no longer can extract any meaning from the agglomeration of characters "quiz."

  61. LDavidH said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    @Ellen K: it seems I did better than I knew; I guess it should really have been "bafflement", but as turning verbs into nouns must be seen as normal in headlinese, I don't apologise for my "truncated" form.

  62. Ellen K. said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    Actually, I think now it's the use of the word "strain" that was the issue. If Jonathan Mayhew is right, then that's a use that's new to me (and to dictionaries too).

  63. J Lee said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

    of course it sounds absurd to american ears because of the lexical difference. and it is manifestly true that it is appropriate in BrE headlinese. thus by 'normal' i mean in actual spoken usage. arriving at 'interrogation' from 'quiz' + suicidal leap from a room in fact says very little. your grasp of rhetoric (and sense of humor) is lacking if you take "not especially refined" to mean "not refined" which is not even a concept one can apply to a natural language. and since it is certainly not the parsing that is interesting here, 'sex quiz' = criminal interrogation must be it.

  64. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    The dictionary on my computer has this definition of strain:

    "2 a severe or excessive demand on the strength, resources, or abilities of someone or something : the accusations put a strain on relations between the two countries | she's obviously under considerable strain.
    • a state of tension or exhaustion resulting from this : the telltale signs of nervous strain."

    So it's hard to argue that is a new or noteworthy usage. The example they use even refers to relations between countries.

  65. LDavidH said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan – I was too late to defend my usage. Of course, my made-up headline was just meant as a bit of fun, but it's nice if it's correct as well, at least on this (the UK) side of the Atlantic!

  66. Ellen K. said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    Jonathan Mayhew, the dictionary defintion you quote is NOT the same as your post where you equated a strain to a row. Not at all.

  67. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 16, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

    A strain might lead to a row, a "noisy, acrinomious quarrel." Or a row (a serious dispute) might be evidence that relations are strained (not good). They are both forms of conflicts, though a strain might simply a tension and a row is an open fight.

    I didn't expect anyone would take my explication with that degree of literalness so I'm sorry I wasn't more clear about that. I didn't mean to propose the two words as exact synonyms.

  68. Janice Byer said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 1:09 am

    Jonathan, "strain" makes your point for me. Where I come from, mostly just geographically at my age, but, still, I remember how people'd complain "What a strain!" of a conflict with a difficult party.

    Mind, I'm not saying any of us Yanks and Brits here are difficult :)

  69. Richard Wein said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 6:29 am

    I wonder how many nouns can be concatenated before a writer becomes too uncomfortable with the construct. At four nouns, "sex quiz cricket ace" is not so unusual. I own a board game (Dune) which is described on the box as "Space civilization power struggle game". That's five, which feels excessive to me. Can anyone recall an example of six? (I'm looking for a phrase used in earnest, not one invented especially for the purpose.)

  70. Richard Wein said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 6:33 am

    P.S. The Dune case is helped by the fact that "space civilization" and "power struggle" are fairly well established units, making the whole phrase easier to parse.

  71. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    I don't find it difficult to parse 8 nouns like "college tenure appeal process committee meeting rescheduling notice" though admittedly that's a made-up example not one I found in the wild. I think Richard is correct that pre-established units make for easier comprehension of NP made from concatenations of more than three or four nouns..

  72. Janice Byer said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    Richard and Jonathan, I went and found us some real world [out of this world?] examples on NASA's website:

    Landsat Data Continuity Mission flight operations team schedule

    LDCM flight operations team post-launch data product generation

    …and oodles more that make easy sense but tedious reading, which NASA apparently realizes, hence abbreviations abound, e.g. LDCM.

  73. Janice Byer said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    …hence abbreviations and initialisms abound, I should've written to be precise, e.g. Landsat and LDCM, respectively.

  74. LDavidH said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

    Language Log Headline Crash Blossom Debate Behind Mayhew Transatlantic Quiz Definition Row Apology

  75. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

    How about "…Behind Transatlantic Quiz Definition Row Man Apology"?

  76. LDavidH said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    Swedish Language Log Headline Crash Blossom Quiz Baffle Row Initiator Unapologetic

  77. Ken Brown said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

    "Sun journo in headline pond row"

  78. Richard Wein said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 9:56 am

    Thanks for the replies to my comment of November 17. I forgot to check back until now.

    Janice, those are impressive examples. I suppose the usual readers of such material will find them acceptable because they'll be familiar with units like "flight operations team".

  79. Headline headaches | G7Finance.com - Finance News & Personal Finance Resources said,

    February 2, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

    [...] GETTING the gist of a news story across in six or so words is difficult, which is one reason editing at a newspaper is a thankless task. (That, and cleaning up the prose, the facts and the argument of a writer who then gets 100% of the byline.) Headsup is one blog largely devoted to this difficult art of headline-writing. And the folks at Language Log have written often about "crash blossoms", headlines that are confusing to analyse because non-content words like articles, prepositions and so forth are left out, leaving a headline that can be read several ways. Many crash blossoms come from Britain, where editors often assume the reader is familiar with the characters and plot of an ongoing story, and so pile up long noun-noun compounds that tell the whole story, like "Sex quiz cricket ace in hotel suicide leap". [...]

  80. Chad said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 11:21 am

    There are only two possible verbs in this headline: "quiz", and "leap". Given their placements in the headline, "quiz" seems like the most likely one, especially since "suicide leap" is an obvious noun-noun pairing. Even after reading the headline, I took "sex" to be an unfortunate shorthand for "sex crimes officers".

    Seriously, of all of the words in that headline, "Sex" is the third-most likely to be a verb. There's no verb in that headline, is there? "Sex quiz cricket ace" is one noun pile, and then "hotel suicide leap" is another one, and the two are connected only by the preposition "in". The verb is an unstated "was" (or "is", or whatever conjugation of "to be" you want.)

    And NW's right. The headline actually becomes clearer if you take out the preposition and just make it a seven-word noun pile.

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