Newborn searches for crash blossom

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Amy Reynaldo spotted this crash blossom currently featured on the home page of the Chicago Tribune:



If the headline had appeared on one unbroken line, it would be even more prone to the crash blossom-y interpretation: "{Woman [was] abandoned} as {newborn searches for birth mother}," with "woman" in the first clause presumably coreferring with "birth mother" in the second clause. As Amy writes, "I read that as 'newborn baby abandons adoptive mother and goes off to search for his birth mother' and wondered how the newborn was able to do such a thing."

But with the help of the line break, the correct interpretation of "{Woman [who was] abandoned as newborn} searches for birth mother" gradually emerges. Now it becomes clear that "birth mother" is actually the object of the search by the woman (abandoned as a newborn). The confusion could have been avoided entirely by adding a couple of commas: "Woman, abandoned as newborn, searches for birth mother." But perhaps the Trib tries to avoid commas in its headlines — in this case, to the detriment of the reader.

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14 Comments »

  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 11:30 am

    The only reason for any ambiguity is that readers are so conditioned by the "be" avoidance of American headlinese that they reflexively insert "is" between "woman" and "abandoned." Do headline writers take an oath never to use "is," "are," "was" or "were"?

  2. Nelida said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 11:32 am

    My first reaction was: WTF?! and about 10 seconds later it sank in. My first reading followed Amy's exactly. Thnx to Amy and to you for sharing. Each crash blossom spotted is, in its modest way, a lesson about writing style and a hint about what should be avoided.

  3. The Ridger said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    I dunno. Newborns don't actually do anything. much less search, so while I see the syntactic trap the context makes the second reading much, much less available for me.

  4. Alan said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    Because of the line break, the alternate interpretation didn't occur to me until I went back and looked for it. I am pretty sure that the headline writer knew about the line break, so even if an editor considered the possibility of ambiguity, it would be reasonable to publish the headline as they did.

  5. Brett said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    I find this one very hard to read the wrong way. I suspect that the main reason (apart from the line break) is that that "abandoned as newborn" strikes me as a phrase that belongs together that has a specific and salient meaning.

  6. Ellen K. said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

    Somehow, I had no problem, on initially reading it, with the idea of a newborn searching for a birth mother (which doesn't make much sense for two reasons). But I was really wondering what that abandoned woman had to do with this search. Until I reparsed and got the right reading.

  7. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

    At first blush, in reading this crash blossom 'header', my slightly perverse cartoonist's imagination almost immediately conjured up that cigar-chomping little infant, with the pink hair ribbon, barefoot-and-diapered, with the gruff gangster-esque, adult voice, Baby Herman, from the late-'80s Richard William's- directed combined-animated-and-live-action feature, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

    "Yeah, ya see…. I was abandoned by me 'boyth mudder', and I'm gonna find 'er, if it kills me… capiche?"

    OK, hardly a "newborn", but a cute scenario, nonetheless.

    (Annoying little Stewie from "Family Guy", with his toffy Brit accent, could work, as well.)

    I do agree with some earlier commenters that one or two aptly placed comma insertions would have clarified the headline, making sense-wise.

    [(bgz) Babyface Finster is surely the original infantile gangster.]

  8. SRD said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

    I looked at the headline reading the wrong interpretation for at least 20 seconds. Then again, I had been primed to do so by the blog's own headline. Without "Newborn searches for crash blossom" I expect I would have read it correctly a lot sooner (or first).

  9. Chris Waters said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

    The crash definitely blossomed for me*, despite the line break, although its nonsensical nature allowed me to quickly readjust, and the line break may have helped there.

    * How's that for a creative re-interpretation of the phrase?

  10. John Swindle said,

    October 20, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

    Skateboarders Defy Court to Race Down Broadway

    –New York Times ("Published: October 20, 2012")

  11. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 12:06 am

    @Ben (bgz)

    'Correct-o-mundo' kind sir!

    Indeed, it would appear that the "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" folks heavily 'borrowed' from the much earlier debuting short-statured gangster "Babyface" Finster character from Merry Melodies 1954 animated short, "Baby Buggy Bunny", directed by the famed Chuck Jones and written by the prolific Mike Maltese.

    In doing a quickie 'Wiki' search I discovered that the basic plot-line of this animated short hinged on the fact that this diminutive hood accidently lost his stolen loot down Bugs Bunny's rabbit hole, and in order to retrieve his ill-gotten gains, he proceeded to disguise himself as an orphaned baby, who just happened to have a hankerin' for fat stogies, and spoke w/a gruff Brooklyn-ese accent.

    On the face of it, it would seems that the 'Roger Rabbit' crew shamelessly ripped off the earlier conceived Merry Melodies "Babyface" Finster character, and merely called their diapered, cigar-chomping bandit, Baby Herman.

    (But then again, 'Roger Rabbit' was intended as kind of a sendup, or filmic homage to the early days of Hollywood studio produced animated theatrical shorts, so in a way the 'Roger Rabbit' producers could be cut some slack in their closely mimicking the mid-'50s-era 'babyface' character.)

    And tha….tha….tha…. that's all folks!

    P.S.: —I actually worked as a key background and character designer for Warner Bros. TV Animation from 1989 to 1996, and for several years in the mid-2000s. So i have little excuse for not recalling the Babyface" Finster character. Oh well.

  12. michael farris said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

    For me the crash didn't blossom. I immediately understood the correct meaning while noting the other possible meaning (since it was pointed out as a crash blossom). Had it not been pointed out I don't know if I would have thought of it.

  13. Daniel W. said,

    November 20, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    The Chicago Tribune seems to enjoy crash blossoms:
    "CTA pass users face fare hikes"

  14. Eva-Lise Carlstrom said,

    December 31, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

    I just found another crash blossom:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/sandy-hook-shooting-gun-sales_n_2317522.html

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