Third time's the charm

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Submited by reader DC: John Marzulli, "Infant sealed in concrete by a Brooklyn couple charged with enslaving hooker mom was beaten to death", NY Daily News, 1/15/2010.

This is an unusually long headline — in another style, it might have been something like "Concrete Hooker Infant Beaten".

Lexical and structural ambiguities entirely to the side, the underlying story is pretty awful: "The feds charged alleged ringleaders Domingo Salazar, 33, and Norma Mendez, 32, with forcing the baby's mother, who is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, into prostitution two weeks after the baby was born to pay off her smuggling debt."


  1. Sili said,

    January 16, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    Ironically, I find "Concrete Hooker Infant Beaten" a lot easier to parse. But of course by then the real headline had primed me as to the subject.

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 16, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

    The headline didn't faze me a bit. I am so used to supplying omitted articles, conjunctions, relative pronouns and auxiliaries when reading headlines that I almost unconsciously read it as "[The] infant [that was] sealed in concrete by a Brooklyn couple [who were] charged with enslaving [a] hooker mom was beaten to death."

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 16, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    Apparently it's "[the infant's] hooker mom". And with the "charged" and "alleged", I'm surprised that the headline treats it as certain that the couple sealed the baby in concrete. That must be some kind of crime too.

  4. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    January 16, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

    That garden pathed me twice. First I got the pretty laughable (well, maybe not if you think about the actual story) interpretation that the infant was charged, then I wanted to attach "was beaten to death" under the "Brooklyn couple" NP. Third time was definitely the charm for me.

  5. Mark P said,

    January 16, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    This is an example of trying to include the entire story in a headline. I think something like "Infant sealed in concrete was beaten to death" would suffice. This was a follow-up story so presumably readers would already be familiar with the couple that had forced the mother into prostitution.

  6. marie-lucie said,

    January 16, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

    What a horrible story!

  7. E. said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 1:02 am

    For some reason, it also took me several attempts to figure out that the infant was beaten to death before being sealed in concrete.

  8. Graeme said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 8:59 am

    When I first drove, 20 yrs back, Australian road works were routinely accompanied by the sign 'No linemarking on new road'. I always read this as an imperative; imagining linemarking was perhaps jargon for driving too close to soft shoulders on newly tarred surfaces.

    More recently, clearer (and shorter) signs have appeared reading 'No lines on new road'.

  9. Luke said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 12:07 pm


    When leaving a road work area here, a common sign is "End Road Work / Thank You" — which I often think is ironically appropriate when read as an imperative.

  10. Boris said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

    It took me awhile to work out what the real meaning of those sentences is, even the second one. Does "line" mean "lane" in Australia or does it refer to the markings themselves? I would understand "no lane markings" (or shoulder markings or whatever kind of markings are missing) better, though it still sounds odd. I would also put in "new road" as a separate sentence preceding the "no markings" sentence.

  11. Peter McAndrew said,

    January 18, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

    The ones I've seen are more along the lines of "New work / No lines marked".

    Line most definitely refers to the markings themselves. They tend to have the lanes marked by some temporary metal markers stuck to the road at regular intervals, but these are much less noticeable than the lines and usually about half of them have been knocked off before the lines get marked.

  12. Chad said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

    The only reason this headline is even remotely readable is the inclusion of the word "was"–which shows impressive restraint on the writer's part, since leaving out forms of the verb "to be" is common headlining practice and the misinterpretation becomes so much easier to accept without that little word there. "Infant sealed in concrete by a Brooklyn couple charged with enslaving hooker mom beaten to death". Actually, now that I think about it, the one misreading is possible even with the word "was" there.

    Correct reading: "Infant (who was) sealed in concrete [by a Brooklyn couple (who was) charged with enslaving hooker mom] was beaten to death." The Brooklyn couple enslaved the hooker mom and beat the baby to death, then sealed the baby in concrete. Well, it's not necessarily true that the couple were the ones who beat the infant to death, but they both enslaved the hooker mom and sealed the infant in the concrete.
    Incorrect reading, possible even with the word "was": "[Infant [(who was) sealed in concrete by a Brooklyn couple] (who had been) charged with enslaving hooker mom] was beaten to death." The Brooklyn couple still sealed the infant in concrete and the infant was still beaten to death, but now the infant was the one who enslaved the hooker mom.
    Incorrect reading, not possible due to the presence of "was": "Infant (was) sealed in concrete [by a Brooklyn couple charged with enslaving [hooker mom beaten to death]]." Now it's not the infant who was beaten to death, but the enslaved hooker mom.

    And if you so elect, you could misread it even further, like the bit about the kebab van where the word "by" is used to mean "near to", which is a completely correct usage but subverts expectations, and taking that into mind it is no longer even necessary for the hooker-mom-enslaving Brooklynites to have been the ones sealing the infant in the concrete.

    I find the idea of "Concrete Hooker Infant Beaten" extremely humorous.

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