Infant involved in crash blossom

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A commenter on FARK noted this headline on the website for KMOV St. Louis:

Infant pulled from wrecked car
involved in short police pursuit

…adding, "No word on how far his short little legs took him before the police caught up with him."

The headline was quickly edited thereafter, and it now reads:

Infant pulled from car after police chase, crash

Victor Steinbok, who brought this to my attention, observes that "the updated headline is only marginally better."

The original headline was a classic crash blossom — complete with a crash (don't worry, the infant and other passengers are OK). As is typical of crash blossoms, there is an ambiguous reading resulting from the elliptical style of headlinese. The intended reading was:

{[An] infant} [was] {pulled from {[a] wrecked car [which was] involved in [a] short police pursuit}}

But it can be just as easily read as:

{[An] infant [who was] pulled from [a] wrecked car} [was] {involved in [a] short police pursuit}

The revised headline gets rid of the syntactic ambiguity, but some pragmatic ambiguity remains relating to the infant's involvement with the police chase and crash. Without reading the story, wherein we learn of the three adults in the car, it's still possible to imagine the infant as Babyface Finster from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon (or Baby Herman from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), trying to make a getaway from the cops. This infant is clearly as talented as the newborn who searched for her birth mother.

Before-and-after screenshots (the first pulled from the Google cache):

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16 Comments »

  1. Amy de Buitléir said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    Re the first headline: I guess it makes sense that if you're pursuing an infant, you only send the short police officers. Save the tall ones for the adult criminals.

  2. Eric P Smith said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

    At first I hoped infant involved in crash blossoms. (As violinist linked to JAL crash did.) Sadly I read in original article that police found him buckled.

  3. Ray Girvan said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

    Even though it could imply it was the police car that was wrecked, a UK headline would probably be along the lines of:

    Infant pulled from police pursuit car wreck

  4. Belial said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

    Not, "Police Pursuit Car Wreck Infant Save"?

  5. Ken Brown said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

    Cops save car chase crash kid

  6. Ray Girvan said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

    "Police chase wreck baby miracle escape"?

  7. David Morris said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    A couple of months ago I saw the headline 'Teens cops drive count'. My first thought was that some junior members of the force had been assigned the task of chauffing a member of the European nobility, but then I read the story and realised that a young driver had been charged with an offence under the Traffic Act. I suspect that the headline writer had his/her tongue in his/her cheek, as the offence in question was ramming a police car in an attempt to avoid being stopped and questioned about something.

  8. davep said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

    I have no idea why headline writers eschew hyphens.

    "Infant pulled from car after police-chase crash"

    "Infant pulled from crashed-car after police chase"

    "Infant pulled from car crashed in police chase"

  9. weirdnoise said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

    Amy de Buitléir: It could also be read that the infant was pursuing short police officers. Guess tall ones would be a little more difficult for an infant…

  10. Chris said,

    January 24, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

    Amy de Buitléir: I'd like to imagine there's a short police division in the precinct assigned to this type of infant crime.

  11. mollymooly said,

    January 25, 2013 @ 5:33 am

    @ Ray Girvan:

    a UK headline would probably be along the lines of:

    Infant pulled from police pursuit car wreck

    Nah, try

    plod pluck tot from twoc

  12. David Morris said,

    January 25, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    I seem to remember that there was once a minimum height requirement for joining the police force. That seems to have been relaxed or rescinded, given the number of very small police (usually women, but also some men) I've seen recently.

  13. Past participles said,

    January 26, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    I don't see why it's not fine as is. The way I take it, "involved" is a past participle that acts as an adjective to whatever is closest to it. Since English does the SVO thing that would make the noun that "involved" is modifying "car," not "infant." I'm not objecting to the interpretations above; in fact I see them as quite legitimate. However, in terms of "involved" being a past participle, I find them unnecessary. I'm still willing to grant that it's ambiguous, but I'm curious if anyone else read it normally with the idea that "involved" was a past participle modifying "car" (I only mention this because I don't see it mentioned above). Are participles not cool anymore?

  14. Ellen K. said,

    January 26, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    So far as I can tell everyone is reading it at a part participle. How else would one read it? The issue is low or high attachment.

  15. ajay said,

    January 28, 2013 @ 9:54 am

    I'd like to imagine there's a short police division in the precinct assigned to this type of infant crime.

    The pursuit of mobile infants is a duty of the Mobile Infantry.

  16. Nelida K. said,

    January 28, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

    @Amy de Butléir, @weirdnoise, @Chris, @David Morris, thank you guys. You provided me with much needed Monday-mirth. Laughed myself silly.

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