Ebola fear stalks Bloomberg headlines

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Bloomberg News is notorious for its bizarre, impenetrable headlines. There's a whole Tumblr blog devoted to strange Bloomberg headlines, and Quartz last year ran an article looking into "how Bloomberg headlines got to be so odd." Here's a new one, spotted by David Craig and Brett Wilson:

Mark Liberman noted another Bloomberg specimen last January: "Madonna addicted to sweat dance plugs Toronto condos: Mortgages." While that one fits the profile of a crash blossom fairly well, this one is cryptic on other grounds. As David Craig noted on Facebook, it doesn't "have some sort of meaning that either turns out to be completely wrong or leaves you flailing around halfway through the sentence." Rather, you can get through the whole headline and still be in a fog about its intended meaning.

Crash blossoms often turn on part-of-speech ambiguity, but that's not a problem here, unless you think of "Ebola fear stalks" as a peculiar noun pile instead of parsing "stalks" as a verb indicating what fear does (at least according to journalists). I would expect Ebola fear to stalk people, but here it's stalking a "home hunt": Louise Troh, the girlfriend of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan, now out of quarantine, lost out on a deal for a new apartment.

And the "quarantined now released" part of the headline is even more opaque, referring to Ms. Troh (and by extension others like her?) with a pair of participial adjectives used as nouns. This type of construction works best with a determiner, as in "the departed," "my beloved," or "our fallen" (see some discussion here), and most typically relies on a small set of past participles that have taken on this idiomatic usage.

It turns out the Bloomberg headline is actually a rewrite of one that appeared a couple of days ago, which is a bit easier to parse:

The headline was updated to reflect the fact that Ms. Troh has been released from the state-imposed 21-day quarantine today. But in the process, Bloomberg managed to come up with something that makes far less sense. In last year's Quartz article, Zach Seward fretted that Bloomberg might be abandoning its idiosyncratic headline-writing style, following the recommendations of a report commissioned by the news agency. Based on this evidence, I don't think Bloomberg is changing its baffling ways quite yet.


  1. maidhc said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

    This article

    was originally published under the headline

    Doctor Who Discovered Ebola In 1976 Fears "Unimaginable Tragedy"

    which certainly sent me off in the wrong direction.

  2. Keith said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 1:31 am

    Crash blossoms often turn on part-of-speech ambiguity

    Yes: my part-of-speech ambiguity is often turned on by the sight of a shapely crash blossom.


  3. Robert Coren said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 10:58 am

    @maidhc: Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, if one looks at the headlines as much for amusement as information), my local paper has abandoned the custom of capitalizing all words in headlines. This did not prevent me from experiencing a momentary crash blossom this morning when I saw "Apple rings in record $8.5b profit", which left me wondering for a moment how one made huge profits from cored, sliced apples.

  4. G. L. Dryfoos said,

    October 24, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

    I just saw this today:

    "Pre-Med Stress Hits New Heights As MCAT Exam Changes Loom"

    and now I'm wondering what was wrong with the old one? And why do pre-med students have to study weaving anyway?

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