"Closed minds": open to interpretation?

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CNN International recently sent out this tweet, linking to an interview with Stella McCartney:

The headline, which also appears on CNN's website, left some people perplexed. Was Ms. McCartney saying that her parents closed minds, or did they open closed minds?

There are two possible interpretations, depending on whether the conjuncts in the coordinate structure are understood to be verb phrases or noun phrases:

1. My parents ([opened doors]VP and [closed minds]VP)
2. My parents opened ([doors]NP and [closed minds]NP)

Among those who encountered the headline on Twitter, some figured that #2 was the intended reading, and that #1 was a crash-blossom-y misinterpretation.

But if you click through to the interview itself, you'll see that #1 was actually the meaning intended by Stella McCartney… or at least the version of Stella McCartney that CNN is presenting. Here is the quoted exchange:

CNN: You had very famous role models — do you think that helped you, or do you think that was actually a hurdle?
McCartney: It certainly opened a lot of doors and certainly closed some minds. So I think there was a balance.

In her original wording, "certainly closed some minds" makes it clear that closed is functioning as a verb and not a past-participial adjective modifying minds. But the headline writer played fast and loose with the paraphrased quote by making the subject "my parents" rather than, say, "my parents' celebrity," the implied topic of CNN's line of questioning.

So, with the headline bluntly suggesting that Ms. McCartney blames her famous parents for "closing minds," it's only natural that casual readers would look for an alternate interpretation, alighting on the more benign reading of #2. Even when potentially ambiguous headlines turn out not to be crash blossoms, they can be terribly misleading.


  1. Azmodes said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

    I immediately read it with the first meaning. I suppose the antonymic nature of those two verbs is a factor here. A certain contrasting symmetry that guides one to parse the thing as two verb phrases, opening one thing, closing another. Well, me at least.

    There's probably a really obvious name for this specific figure of speech, but I can't think of it right now.

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

    Well, her dad did play (even if in a second-banana role to Lennon) on that well-known song whose lyrics begin with the injunction "Turn off your mind" . . .

  3. zafrom said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    Speaking of closed minds, I didn't know who the woman to Paul's left is (while wondering if both frequented the same beautician 5 years ago). At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_McCartney I saw that she is his daughter (not wife). On that page, this photo caption — "Stella McCartney" reads beneath the Adidas logo on this dress worn by Caroline Wozniacki at the 2010 US Open. — at first perplexed me, until I embiggened the photo and read "stella mccartney" beneath the logo. The position of the logo could indicate the beginning of a program to improve literacy from infancy onward, consistent with another Stella response in the interview: "Anyone can do anything they want, if they really want it."

  4. BZ said,

    December 2, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

    I don't think I've ever seen "to close (one's) mind" before. I see that dictionaries do list it as having a meaning similar to what is intended, but beyond "close-minded", it just sounds wrong to me. On the other hand, I find it quite acceptable to say "open your mind (to something)". Still, even opening someone else's mind sounds a bit odd.

  5. Auntturtle said,

    December 3, 2014 @ 12:11 am

    If you called a crash blossom a squash blossom, would it be an acorn?

  6. Yuval said,

    December 4, 2014 @ 10:47 am

    #1 can also be made more clear via rephrasing: substitute the "and" with a "but".

  7. Bloix said,

    December 5, 2014 @ 5:01 am

    She's not saying that her parents closed anyone's minds.
    She's a fashion designer. So she says, obviously enough, that having Paul and Linda McCartney as parents opened doors for her in her profession. But she then says that it also closed some people's minds to her – as in, she can't be any good, she's just a super-famous super-rich guy's kid.

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