Today's headline harvest

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"Blindfold sex knife attack ex-wife jailed for murder attempt", BBC News 12/8/2014 — Although the five-noun pile-up doesn't give us any syntactic help, the facts are more or less what you'd guess by putting all the words on the table and making up a story about them:

A woman who tried to murder her ex-husband after blindfolding him following sex and telling him she had a surprise in store has been jailed.

Andrea Santon, of Lancaster, stabbed her former partner with a kitchen knife after luring him to her home and bedding him after a night out in June.

But in this one, the syntax takes us down a garden path, with baffling results: "World's Oldest Womean Just Pleased Every Other Human On Earth When She Was Born Now Dead", The Onion 12/8/2014.

You might need to read to the story to retrace your steps and get to the right interpretation:

OSAKA, JAPAN—Reflecting on a long life that began at the end of the 19th century, the world’s oldest woman told reporters Monday that she could not be happier that every other human on earth the day she was born is now deceased. “Nothing, not one single thing, gives me more pleasure than knowing anyone who was alive on March 5, 1898—my family, my friends, and even far-off strangers that I never knew existed—is stone-cold dead,” said 116-year-old Misao Okawa, smiling as she observed how all 1.6 billion of the people who were alive the day she came into the world had passed away, one by one, during her remarkable lifespan. “I’m the sole fucking survivor. I’m the longevity queen. I’m the one who stuck it out while everyone else threw themselves on the corpse pile. Man, it’s too bad I’m in a wheelchair or I’d trample every single one of their fucking graves.”

The obligatory screen shots:

[h/t Chris Dammers and Laurel MacKenzie]


  1. Peter said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 6:47 am

    It could be even more thoroughly nounified, and still remain comparatively intelligible: Blindfold sex knife attack ex-wife murder attempt jail sentence.

  2. Yerushalmi said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 6:50 am

    Huh. I understood the Onion headline as intended immediately. I had to reread it to figure out what the alternate meaning might be.

  3. mae said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:00 am

    I hope that this shout-out concerning their accomplishment will inspire The Onion to try for even taller piles of nouns in the future.

  4. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:42 am

    Huh. I understood the Onion headline as intended immediately. I had to reread it to figure out what the alternate meaning might be.

    I've reread it and I still can't see what the alternative meaning is supposed to be.

  5. Ben Zimmer said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:50 am

    For the alternate reading, treat pleased as a transitive verb rather than elliptical headlinese for is pleased (that).

  6. GH said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:58 am

    I was more confused by the typo in myl's version ("Oldest Women").

  7. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:02 am

    Ah, I see. I had too strong a semantic association for the phrase "just pleased" (or "just happy" or "just relieved") to allow a verb interpretation.

  8. bks said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:02 am

    Reuters headline, today:
    More than 150 arrested in California during police killing protests


  9. Ray Girvan said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:31 am

    One I spotted recently:

    Hospital fed patient through a hatch
    – various UK newspapers, Nov 2014

  10. Yuval said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 9:26 am

    Also got the intended meaning first. @Ginger Yellow: try interpreting "pleased" as a past-tense verb.

  11. kktkkr said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    "Sex knife ex-wife" should win an award for working words into headline rhymes.

  12. AB said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

    It seems to me that one or both of "blinfold sex" or "knife attack" need a hyphen. I spent a (brief) moment wondering what exactly a sex knife was.

  13. Paul Kay said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

    I didn't notice the Onion but did register that the old woman was Japanese and was bemused by the freedom of translation.

  14. Paul Kay said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

    I should have said apparent freedom of translation. I don't know Japanese.

  15. Gregory Kusnick said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

    AB: I spent several uncomfortable moments trying not to imagine what a sex knife might be.

  16. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

    I doubt it was translated from anything. This is a joke story.

  17. Alan Palmer said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 5:07 am

    I got the intended meaning in The Onion at once as well, and had to look twice to see the alternative interpretation. What did make it difficult to read was the initial capitalisation of every word in the sentence, even the unimportant little ones, like "On" and "She".

  18. January First-of-May said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 7:20 pm

    @AB, Gregory Kusnick:
    I, for some reason, had no problems with the "sex knife" part by itself, but had trouble imagining a blindfold one – and of course just how the triangular heck it was supposed to attack somebody.

  19. David Morris said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

    Two headlines I spotted recently:
    UAE arrests woman over U.S. teacher, says planted bomb (an unusually talkative bomb)
    BPA can and bottle lining could increase blood pressure (I initially took 'can' to be a modal verb)

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