Egg blast

« previous post | next post »

It is by no means easy to understand headlines in your native language if you cross into a new cultural area, e.g. by crossing the Atlantic. And as headlines go, this one does fairly well at illustrating utter unintelligibility:

GERS’ KIRK IN EGG BLAST

It took up nearly half of the front page of The Scottish Sun on May 15 (the right hand side of the page being reserved for a photo of the upper body of the newly crowned and daringly dressed Miss Scotland).

Now, Gers looks like it could be short for "Germans", right? And kirk is an old Scots word for a church. If religion is involved, the egg is probably a human one. Blast is often used in newspaper headlines for a furious denunciation or excoriating memo. So… an old Scottish church taken over by a congregation of pro-choice German Protestant immigrants has been the target for an angry newsletter article by a Catholic archbishop over the question of whether a newly fertilized ovum counts for moral purposes as a human being. That could be it, right? But perhaps you don't want me to tell you. Perhaps you'd rather guess.


All right, time's up, I'll tell you.

The linguistically most interesting point, I think, is the first word, Gers. It is a rather unusual instance of a clipping — a word formed by clipping a bit out of a longer word — where the bit that you throw away has the main stress and the bit you keep is unstressl in the unreduced word. (It is not unprecedented for a clipping to consist of just an originally unstressed syllable: the Australian word for a pickup is ute, from the unstressed initial syllable of the original utility truck. But it's unusual.) The original word here is Rangers, the name of one of the Glasgow soccer teams (the Protestant one, for those who keep track of long-standing religious hostilities). Gers is a headlinese abbreviated form of the team's name, as everyone in Scotland would know, though you might not. And just to be meticulous about the syntactic evidence, let me add that the Gers’ of the headline is a correctly deployed genitive plural.

So that just leaves the kirk, and the mysterious egg blast, doesn't it? Let me explain those too.

Kirk here is the first name of Kirk Broadfoot, who plays for the Rangers. Broadfoot was too broad for the column width given the gigantic headline font. And the egg blast was in fact an explosion. Mr Broadfoot was poaching an egg in a glass dish in a microwave oven, and when he opened the door it exploded in his face. "Star burned by microwave horror" said the subhead. (He's in hospital recovering from facial burns. Don't worry, I'm sure he'll be all right.)

So that's the correct interpretation. Forget the irate archbishop and the church takeover by liberal Lutherans.

Let me just add that I picked up my copy of The Scottish Sun when someone left it on the bus. It is not a newspaper I normally read. It has an extremely low ratio of text to color photos of unclad girls. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Really, I'm not some prudish old stick-in-the-mud. I think the exposed breasts of Poppy (aged 18, from Somerset), on page 3, are super. Poppy looks delightful dressed in nothing but those tiny pink knickers. (The page 3 feature is called "News in Briefs", you see: each day they print a quote about current events that they claim to have obtained from a young woman between the ages of about 17 and about 27, beside a full-frontal picture of the author of the remark, dressed only in panties. A pun. You get it? News in brief? Sigh. I can see that you're not appreciating their merry witticism.) But there is not much news to read in the paper's 96 tabloid pages. I picked it up not in order to have the photographic memento of Poppy but purely in order to research the egg blast headline for you. I am that dedicated to your reading pleasure and the broadening of your linguistic understanding.

Don't poach eggs in a glass dish in the microwave, by the way.



55 Comments

  1. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    I correctly guessed that "Gers" was short for "Rangers", and that Kirk must then be one of their players! (Incidentally, in my imagination, Kirk was a surname.) However, that's as far as I got. I thought that perhaps a fan had thrown eggs at some of the players, or something.

  2. HP said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    See, here I was thinking the story was something to do with Ricky Gervais and Chris Pine in some sort of out-of-control breakfast party.

    Actually, I believe I'd like to see that.

  3. Thomas Westgard said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 8:14 pm

    Somewhat like "Cans Bush in Shoe Hurl," although no one calls us "Cans."

  4. Ellen said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

    I immediately thought Rangers, and Kirk I've only ever seen as a name. Although I knew the Rangers I was thinking of (ice hockey, North America) wasn't it, I figured it was some sort of -gers team name. Egg blast, however, is not a concept that ever springs to mind and thus was quite opaque to me.

  5. Mark A. Mandel said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

    "It is not unprecedented for a clipping to consist of just an originally unstressed syllable: the Australian word for a pickup is ute, from the unstressed initial syllable of the original utility truck. But it's unusual."

    But "ute" is from the first syllable, which is (ISTM) a more prominent location in English than the last… like "uke" < "ukulele", come to think of it. Do you know of any other clippings that consist of an unstressed final syllable? or medial, while we're at it?

  6. Dan T. said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 10:24 pm

    At some point a decade or two ago, wasn't it trendy for college students to refer to parents as "Rents" and pizza as "Za"?

  7. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    On The Simpsons, the baseball team "the Isotopes" are colloquially referred to as the "Topes". Also, in real life, I think I've seen the word "attitude" slangily abbreviated as "tude".

  8. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

    Ah, and another real-life sports example — the NHL team I cheer for, the Canucks, have sometimes been referred to briefly as the "Nucks". In this case, though, it's the emphasized syllable that's used.

  9. Karen said,

    May 16, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

    There's also "shrooms" for mushrooms. The local football team is called the Skins, which is the unstressed and final syllable of their (appalling) name.

  10. Ian Preston said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 2:05 am

    As other have said, it is the 'egg blast' that is the most mystifying part of the headline. But it is the second 'egg blast' of recent days in the same newspaper and the earlier occurrence combines the egg blast issue with the post's other theme of unclad girls. (I am not sure whether the feathery adornments in the accompanying photo are intended to develop the poultry-related aspect of the story.)

    [It had not occurred to me to look for earlier occurrences of the phrase (you Language Log readers are so amazingly smart and diligent!). The chick feathers on Alison Murphy's nipples are there, we can assume, because of a general policy at The Sun (and its Scottish sister paper) that breasts on page 1 do not have exposed nipples — though on page 3 you are absolutely guaranteed a pair of exposed nipples, almost as if it were a contract with the general public. Page 3 has been a tradition since the 60s, and has spawned the idiom "page 3 girl". Alison Murphy, we learn, was actually blinded by a microwave poached egg explosion. Kirk Broadfoot was reportedly luckier: his vision has not been impaired by the egg blast. —GKP]

  11. CIngram said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 3:04 am

    Bot, droid, borg and blog spring instantly to mind, as does a vague feeling that this sort of thing is common in sci-fi films, perhaps to create a kind of artificial familiarity.

  12. Picky said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 5:02 am

    Bus (from Latin omnibus).

  13. peter said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 5:16 am

    the Australian word for a pickup is ute, from the unstressed initial syllable of the original utility truck.

    Except in Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales, where "tilly" is sometimes used.

    [I say again: you Language Log readers teach me a lot. I spent well over a year in all residing in Queensland while working with Rodney Huddleston on The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, and made notes on a lot of Australian English clippings (I wrote the first draft of the section on the topic in the grammar, Chapter 19, pages 1634 to 1636), but I didn't encounter tilly. Learning a language never really ceases, does it? —GKP]

  14. Jim Macdonald said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 5:44 am

    The 'Gers are also known in rhyming slang as the Teddy Bears, and their part of Glasgow – Ibrox – as Teddy Bear country.

    Ibrox is where I grew up. Whenever asked what part of Glasgow I'm from, I find it hard to respond accurately because the answer will be taken as figurative rather than literal. The truth gets in the way of a better discussion.

  15. Sili said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 5:59 am

    Everything's bigger in Denmark – our page 3 girl is on page 9.

    And we call a car "en bil" from "automobil" – the Germans more logically(?) go with "das Auto" (yes, that's definite, but how else to note the gender? One of the few I remember).

    Dear prof Pullum,

    You've made me a devotee of Savage Love but I don't think I'll pick up the Sun in any incarnation any time soon.

    (You shouldn't boil water for tea in the microwave either – there's a genuine risk that it'll overheat and boil explosively when disturbed. In principle it should be alright if you dump in the bag beforehand, but I haven't tested it, myself.)

  16. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 6:13 am

    {Cara)van, (tele)phone; & in the field of sport, (Tottenham Hot)spurs — perhaps the model for Gers.

  17. Mr Punch said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 7:03 am

    BTW, "Kirk Broadfoot" is an excellent name for a Scottish soccer player.

  18. Ellen said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    Seems to me there's a difference between something like phone for telephone and Gers for Rangers, as far as stress.

  19. Karen said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 10:06 am

    Yes, for me caravan and telephone are both end-stressed.

  20. John Cowan said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    I think that what makes Gers for Rangers odd is not that the chosen syllable is unstressed, but that it has a reduced vowel. Of all the examples given so far, only rents and perhaps za share this property. Of course, the clipped form no longer has a reduced vowel, in keeping with the rule that the only monosyllables with reduced vowels are function words with weak and strong forms: the, him, etc.

    Given that Scottish varieties of English do not have the TERM/DIRT/NURSE merger, I'm assuming that both Ger and bear have the TERM vowel (i.e. the DRESS vowel followed by /r/), though for me Ger would have the NURSE vowel and bear the SQUARE vowel. Rents has the DRESS vowel and za the PALM vowel, naturally.

  21. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    @ Karen: Yes, for me caravan and telephone are both end-stressed.

    Well, they aren't for me here in London …

  22. Dan T. said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    For me, caravan and telephone have primary stress at the beginning, secondary stress at the end, and an unstressed schwa in the middle.

  23. Picky said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    And for me omnibus has an unstressed schwa at the end, but I expect for some people the last syllable has a secondary stress – perhaps it did for everyone when the abbreviation arose.

  24. Nick said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    You may not be a "prudish old stick-in-the-mud", but the Ministry of Defence has recently deemed the Sun's page3.com website "inappropriate" for British troops, even when viewed on their own laptops. Ironically, it seems that page3.com is also blocked by News International's internet firewall.

    [I didn't know this. So the young men in the British army are old enough and man enough to be killed by Taliban bombs in Afghanistan, yet are barred by their own government from looking at the unclothed breasts of an 18-year-old from Somerset who has given permission for them to be looked at? War is even more hell than I previously realized. Whatever you may think of the idea of erotic depictions of female humans (which is thousands of years old) — and page 3 wasn't my idea, why should the civilian population of the UK be allowed to look at Poppy's naked body and a soldier in the British army not be allowed to? Makes no sense to me. —GKP]

  25. Bob Moore said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    American readers of this post might not appreciate the cultural significance of the fact that the picture of Poppy appeared on page 3. Such pictures are a standard feature of page 3 of British tabloid newspapers, and the term "page 3 girl" has approximately the same connotation in Britain that "centerfold" does in America.

  26. Bloix said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

    Rangers is odd because the word doesn't naturally divide as rain + jers. Pa-rents and piz-za, cara-van and Hot-spurs, all make some sort of sense, but gers? Does anyone actually say it, or is it just a headline short form, the way "solon" means senator in the Podunk Advertiser?

  27. Picky said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    Happily, it is unlikely verging on unbelievable that the ministry will be able to prevent its troops acquiring pictures of breasts, unless the quality of recruits has fallen off seriously. Meanwhile, if the Sun is to believed, which … oh heck, who cares … 'The MoD insisted: "Adult content has nothing to do with our core business of defence." ' Superb.

  28. Tim said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    "Pa-rents and piz-za, cara-van and Hot-spurs, all make some sort of sense…"

    I'm not sure I agree on "pizza". I mean, looking entirely at the spelling, it might make sense. But, in terms of pronunciation, there's pretty much no resemblance between /'pit.tsə/ and /za:/ (assuming that's the most popular pronunciation of the latter).

  29. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    For somewhat similar instances of clipping, consider Drew and Topher as (less popular, in my experience) alternatives to Andy and Chris as nicknames for Andrew and Christopher. Maybe also Beth as against Liz, although the final syllable of Elizabeth is at least somewhat stressed even if not as much as the, uh, antepenult.

  30. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

    @John Cowan, I should have noted that "Topher" fits the oddity you observed, i.e. the vowel that is reduced in Christopher (at least in my dialect which I think is Standard American for this purpose) "unreduces," as it were, for Topher.

    @Bloix, I was also wondering if anyone wandering around Glasgow but not employed as a headline-writer actually says "Gers." My somewhat unreliable sense (since I spend less time than median hanging out talking sports with my demographic peers) is that certain alternate forms of sports team names in the U.S. exist primarily for newspaper sportswriters and are much less commonly used in speech (e.g. Bosox, Chisox, or "Bucs" for Pirates, all of which are spacesavers when used in headlines).

  31. Private Zydeco said,

    May 17, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    It is a disillusionment of the utmost anticlimacticity
    to undergo, after all these years spent in grandiose
    conjecture, to discover that the provenience of 'tude
    is not, indeed, as a clipping of verisimilitude.

  32. codeman38 said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 12:19 am

    I can think of two cases of an unstressed syllable being clipped out, from a pair of rival college sports teams.

    Gators is a pretty common shortening of alligators, existing well before the University of Florida athletic teams. Less common outside of discussion of college athletics is the abbreviation of Seminoles to 'Noles, as is sometimes done in referring to Florida State's teams.

  33. Bob Ladd said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 2:52 am

    Nobody has mentioned 'burbs from suburbs yet. And that arguably has a reduced unstressed vowel as well, although it is admittedly verging on that theoretically uncomfortable territory where it's kind of hard to say whether "reduced vowel" actually means anything phonetically. But that's for a different thread.

  34. Fred said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 4:20 am

    "Gers"? Seems perfectly obvious to me (the derivation, that is).
    The team's full name is Glas-gow Ran-gers. In the headline-writer's words-of-one-syllable world, this can only be three adjectives and a noun. It's the adjectives that get the chop. That leaves "Gers".
    QED.

  35. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 4:27 am

    A great many of these examples have a secondary stress on the main syllable which survives the clipping process, as various people have pointed out.

    I wonder if some of the exceptions are rather like "eye rhymes", based on the written form entirely?

    This would make sense for the student slang "rents" and "za", and especially for the headlinese "Gers", which I don't remember ever having actually heard in normal conversation.

  36. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 4:43 am

    Re the Alligator -> Gator shortening. In SAE, the first and third syllable receive stress, for me an almost equivalent one. So it makes sense to break it there. The equivalent with Gers would be to take making Bama into Aba, Auburn the Gers (with hard g), Florida the Ligas, and Tennessee the Unters.

  37. Richard Sabey said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 5:29 am

    Another example: flu < influenza, where the syllables with primary and secondary stress are both clipped out.

    @Bloix:

    How come Ran-gers makes less sense than pa-rents and piz-za? To me it makes as much sense as your other examples: the clipping is made with no regard to etymology but makes good sense phonologically.

  38. Jimmy said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 6:25 am

    Rangers is odd because the word doesn't naturally divide as rain + jers??? Does anyone actually say it? Hey Bloixy, try singing it en masse, or chanting it. Of course it divides.

    The 'Gers are a staple of Scottish conversation. Not only that but their great rivals are known as the 'Tic (but to a lesser extent).

  39. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    I believe the use of the final syllable as an abbreviation is very common among blacks in America, e.g. "hood" for "neighborhood." A number of nicknames for black athletes have been created that way, among them "Nique" for Dominique Wilkings and "Dre" for Andre Bly.

  40. Caroline said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    As a longterm resident of the west of scotland I can confirm that everyone in Scotland (and possibly the UK) would know that Gers was Rangers. However I don't believe I have ever heard Tics. Celtic is more commonly referred to as Bhoys (The silent 'h' having some sort of Irish connection I believe). However, as I cannot stand football especially with the associated bigotry, I may be out of the loop slightly.

    It is also associated with the derogatory term Huns for Rangers, which leads back to the Germans=Invaders social context; therefore Rangers are Gers. Glasgow is a truly strange place to be, but I hope this made sense.

  41. Gordon Campbell said,

    May 18, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

    On the topic of abbreviation, ranga = orangutan = red-haired person.

  42. Jair said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 12:01 am

    It reminds of the nickname "Mats" for "The Replacements", the 80's alternative/punk band.

  43. Janice Huth Byer said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    I was able to guess only that Kirk was a soccer player, based on the fact neither he, nor what he was involved in, made sense to us yanks, yet it warranted a front page headline.

    An egg blast, I figured, was a drug bust or a bar fight, something that threatened his career advertising underwear or something. Poor guy was hurt in a cooking accident! I 'm abashed at my prejudice.

    I agree with Professor Pullum: For the military to censor soldiers' reading material, which is sold publicly in the UK, rather mocks the freedoms they're fighting for.

  44. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 9:57 am

    A curious case of abbreviation is the term sarnie, used by many speakers in the UK for "sandwich". It may be restricted to non-rhotic areas like the SE: I'm not sure. What's unusual about this case is that the length of the retained stressed syllable is changed. Why isn't it sannie, I wonder? Would that sound too Australian? A transistor radio, OTOH, is (or was) a trannie/tranny, even in the UK.

  45. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 10:09 am

    A "tranny" is something else where I'm from: either a transsexual or a transvestite (and I realize these are two different things, but the popular imagination is sometimes guilty of blurring distinctions).

  46. Peter Birt said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

    "Burger" from "hamburger" is another example of a clipped form being made up from unstressed syllables.

  47. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

    Jair's example may seem phonologically peculiar for those unaware of an intermediate joke substititution. The whole historical process was, I believe, Replacements -> 'Placements -> Placemats
    -> 'Mats. I think this may have been a regionalism b/c I never heard it contemporaneously from East Coast devotees of the band in the period 84-89, and I'm not sure I ever heard in Chicago in 89-91 although somewhere along the line I became aware of it from seeing it attested in writing.

  48. John Cowan said,

    May 20, 2009 @ 2:45 am

    I don't believe in "secondary stress"; I think it's a way of saying "unstressed but unreduced". So I'm making the same claim as some of the people who may (or may not) believe they are contradicting me.

    Whether the first unstressed NURSE vowel in hamburger counts as reduced or unreduced is indeed a borderline distinction, but I don't think that applies to the second NURSE vowel, or to the final vowel in Rangers.

  49. Lesley said,

    May 20, 2009 @ 3:22 am

    I'm surprised by your phrase "he plays for the Rangers" because no long-time resident of Scotland would ever say "the Rangers". The use of the definite article seems to me to be a North American thing as in "the Canucks" in one of the comments above. However, we Scots do talk about "the Gers". I wonder why that is?

  50. Ken Grabach said,

    May 21, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    In regard to the question of Gers for Rangers, my own Yank tongue can't figure out any other meaningful way to shorten the name. 'Rans'? That sounds like losers in a North American political contest (we run, rather than stand for election). 'Rangies'? Sounds too infantile, and is not shorter than the original name. Gers makes sense to my untutored ear.
    However, before Geoffrey gave us the gloss on the headline, I recalled my reading of Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series, set in Edinburgh. In this series a recurring villain, whose given name is Gerald, and who is a sort of crime boss, is referred to as Big Ger. I thought perhaps someone on one of the football teams was named Gerald, and that his church had had eggs thrown (or fired?) at it.
    I am glad to know that Mr. Broadfoot will be alright. I am sorry to hear of the blinding of the young woman.

  51. Jair said,

    May 21, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

    J. W. Brewer: Ah, thank you! I had wondered what the source of that was.

  52. Cath the Canberra Cook said,

    May 21, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

    Sandwich is an odd one, isn't it? Sanger and sammo are the most common Australian abbreviations. And more on topic: kangaroo -> roo, usually. Unless you are at a fundraiser where they might sell you a kanga banger sanger…

  53. Cecily said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 5:29 am

    Today, the BBC website used "Gers" for an RSS and article headline, and that's for a far wider audience than the Scottish Sun. Until this Language Log post, I wouldn't have had a clue what it was about:

    "Gers don't merit title – Samaras"
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/c/celtic/8061953.stm

  54. Carsten Boll said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    Danish: 'bil' (car) from 'automobil'

  55. Ellen said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

    @ John Cowan

    Secondary stress means more stress than the least stress sylable(s), but less stressed than the most stressed syllable. It's a label for a middle level of stress. And there really is such a thing.

RSS feed for comments on this post