Prompt Angst

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Emily Cahn, "Sanchez Stumbles Prompt SoCal Angst", Roll Call 5/20/2015 — Linda Seebach writes "I lived in LA for a couple of years, and can readily believe that SoCal angst is unusually prompt to appear."

But it's harder to believe that "stumbles" is a transitive verb, though I guess there might be a causative equivalent of the intransitive form, as with break or boil.

On the other hand, it's easy enough to find headlines where a plural noun (fights, fears, plans, etc.) can easily be interpreted as a transitive verb, allowing prompt to take its place as an adjective:

"Tense land fights prompt new group"
"Avian flu fears prompt State Fair fowl ban"
"Panto plans prompt hunt for princess's slipper"

And even cases that go the other way:

"Altaf Hussain demands prompt investigations into allegations on Axact"


  1. Graeme said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 5:34 am

    Only the Hussain example seems ambiguous to me. In all the other examples 'prompt' jumps out as the verb. Perhaps I'm too unimaginative to infer agency, let alone 'tension' to something like land!

  2. Matt McIrvin said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 5:51 am

    Just be careful you don't prompt criticality.

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 5:58 am

    "Satellite delays prompt Canadian defense concerns" was noted as a crash blossom here.

  4. Keith said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 6:38 am

    On first reading, I fell into the trap of taking "stumbles" to be the verb.

    I was primed to jump to that conclusion by the Language Log headline of "Prompt Angst", where prompt is already an adjective (albeit an improbable one).

    But if we re-write "Sanchez Stumbles Prompt SoCal Angst" as "The Stumbles of Sanchez Prompt SoCal Angst", there is much less (if any) ambiguity.

  5. Brett said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 8:10 am

    Having been prompted by the post title to expect "prompt" to be an adjective, I had to read to the second paragraph of the post before I could figure out how to parse the headline at all.

  6. un malpaso said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 9:42 am

    I could crush down "Altaf Hussain demands prompt investigations into allegations on Axact" to something even more concise and potentially less ambiguous, but still bizarre. Why not use "spark" for "prompt"? I've seen this used in American headline-ese…

    "Hussain demands spark looks into Axact claims"

  7. Bean said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 9:46 am

    So when you read these repeatedly trying to figure out the meaning, do you hear the changes in word emphasis in your mind…

    e.g., Satellite delays *prompt* Canadian defense concerns (the concern is delayed by the satellite) vs. *Satellite* delays prompt Canadian defense concerns (the concern is caused by the delays).

    Then when you hit the right one, you think, OH! Or is that just me? :)

  8. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 10:37 am

    'Prompt', of course, can also be a noun, and that was actually my first reading of the heading; angst caused by prompts ('Oh dear; what on earth is this prompt calling for?').

  9. David L said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 11:22 am

    "Hussain demands spark looks into Axact claims"

    But what are these "spark looks" that Hussain is demanding?

  10. Andrew Bay said,

    May 22, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

    I was going to suggest "Hussain demands initiate looks into Axact claims."
    But then I realized that just means he is tasking some religious rookie to look into the claims…

  11. Thomas H. said,

    May 23, 2015 @ 8:04 am

    Dave Barry still provides my favorite singular noun as transitive verb, transitive verb as plural noun headline:
    "British Left Waffles on Balkans"

  12. Keith said,

    May 25, 2015 @ 3:02 am

    One from this morning's Economist Espresso, in an article titled America and China: arm-wrestling in the Spratlys:
    [America] wants to reassure its allies, such as the Philippines, whose claims to land features in the sea challenge China's.
    On first reading, I wondered why the Philippines wanted to land some features in the sea. Then I got to the word "China's" and had to go back to the start and read it over again.

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