The most awkward crash blossom ever?

« previous post | next post »


[h.t. Omri Ceren]

The Washington Post, among others, used the AP headline unaltered:


  1. Theophylact said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    Crash bloomer, perhaps.

  2. JAK said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    Are editors addicted to bad puns or they don't even bother reading? It is really surprising that this happened in such high-profile story.

  3. William said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    For the past 24 hours the BBC website, when viewed from Scotland, has had these two adjacent headlines:

    Glasgow 'buzzing' ahead of Games
    Man electrocuted on city train line

  4. Sockatume said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:35 am

    Thanks to the wonder of New Twitter you can see people's bewildered responses to the ironic pseudo-event in real time:

  5. Rube said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:41 am

    Even though I knew I was reading a Crash Blossom, that gave me a start for a moment.

    It's interesting how the editor who wrote it was so fixated on what they meant that they didn't see the more obvious reading. That happens a lot in all kinds of writing.

  6. ck said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:42 am

    Example why the so much reduced grammar of the English language is bad.

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 9:47 am

    So here it's the same word ("crash") which creates the ambiguity as in the original headline that gave rise to the name "crash blossom" for the phenomenon. How often does that happen?

  8. Ben Zimmer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 10:54 am

    More from the Washington Post's Erik Wemple here. He notes that adding a comma after "crash" (as suggested by various Twitter commenters) would have been grammatically non-standard. He also points out that "crash-lands" would properly have had a hyphen in it if it were truly functioning as a verb, though that hardly mitigates the crash-blossom interpretation.

  9. bratschegirl said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    Note to AP: too soon.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 11:11 am

    I agree that a comma would be non-standard, but it does seem relevant (and maybe this is true in most situation like this) that there would be no ambiguity in speech. Maybe that's a good reminder that while one of the functions of punctuation is to capture in writing some of the additional features of speech (like the location and duration of pauses) that help convey syntactic structure and thus encode meaning, it does not cover 100% of that.

  11. Allan L. said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    They could have left out the word "crash", except that doing so would have lent credence to the Russian claim that Flight 17 carried only cadavers.

  12. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    They have issued a correction of sorts on Twitter, at least:

    “CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.”

  13. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

    Instead of merely putting a comma after "crash," I would suggest also inserting a comma between "plane" and "carrying."

  14. Dan H said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

    Ironically, the ambiguity here seems to stem from the relatively standard construction of the sentence.

    If the headline had been in full-on tabloidese, something like "Malaysia crash flight body plane lands in Eindhoven" it would have been comparatively unambiguous.

  15. Jacob said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

    “CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.”

    So…while transporting Malaysia Airlines, a Dutch military plane added bodywork to nations in Eindhoven?

  16. Terry Collmann said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    I'd call it a garden path rather than a crash blossom.

    [(myl) But in the end, isn't a crash blossom just a garden path that doesn't force the reader to backtrack, but instead leads to a flower bed or some other interesting place?]

  17. Breffni said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 5:02 am

    Ralph Hickock: in that version ("Dutch military plane, carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash, lands in Eindhoven"), the news is that a Dutch military plane landed in Eindhoven, with the part about the bodies no more than a parenthetic observation.

  18. NSBK said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 7:19 am

    I feel like one easy fix would have been to replace "lands" with "arrives", giving "Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash arrives in Eindhoven". Still garden-pathy, but potentially less ambiguous.

  19. jpmccu said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 12:22 am

    "Dutch military plane lands in Eindhoven carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash" doesn't bury the lede any more than the original, and doesn't crash blossom. It is far more boring though. I wonder how many editors covet the "covered by language log" merit badge?

  20. Mark P said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    One excuse for this type of crash blossom in actual newspapers is the requirement that a headline fit within certain boundaries. I don't think that (poor) excuse is valid for online content.

  21. Alex said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

    @ J. W. Brewer. I agree; a non-standard comma would have been the lesser of two evils. In speech, the stress pattern and spacing (CRASH LANDS vs crashLANDS) would resolve the ambiguity.

    But, even though native English speakers uniformly produce this pattern for compound verbs, they seem by and large unaware of it on an explicit level. I listen to a lot of audio books, and many, many audiobook voice actors and directors seem completely oblivious to the rule when reading out loud, even though I'm sure they don't speak that way. They also routinely mangle compound noun stress patterns. There's a difference between a FAINTINGcouch and a FAINTING COUCH, although I'd be impressed if I saw the latter. I think it's the result of reading without parsing for meaning.

  22. DWalker said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 1:51 pm

    I have always wanted a fainting couch. I would put an occasional table next to it.

  23. Walter Burley said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

    What Alex (and DWalker) said. NPR journalists are another tribe of non-prereading emphasis-manglers. Peeveworthy, say I. Has the phenomenon drawn any academic attention?

  24. Bloix said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 8:53 am

    The Washington Post "Express" (the free tabloid for metro riders) had the following this morning (I'm paraphrasing except for the key words that will be obvious):

    "Gaza Fighting Worsens as Casualties Pile Up"

    Not a crash blossom but a pretty poor choice of words.

  25. katz said,

    August 22, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

    Here's a new crash blossom from CNN:

    It says "Credibility Problems for Brown Witness?"

RSS feed for comments on this post