Baby tracks down a nurse

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Several people sent me links to this headline. One submitter wrote "I’ve enjoyed many ambiguous headlines in my few years of following Language Log. Today I ran across this one, which I read entirely wrong at first (how does a baby track down a nurse?):"

"Woman burned as a baby tracks down nurse who cared for her", Chicago Tribune 9/30/2015.

The obligatory screenshot:


  1. Robert said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

    Oh, OK: [A] Woman [who was] burned . . .

  2. quodlibet said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

    How does a baby track down a nurse? Must be difficult and dangerous, if a woman gets burned in the process.

  3. Matt Regan said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 2:54 pm

    Inconsiderate baby! Help the burning woman first, THEN track down the nurse!

  4. Dan T. said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

    The baby tracked down the nurse and then set fire to her.

  5. Theophylact said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

    Made more confusing by "women", rather than the "woman" of the Tribune's hed.

  6. AntC said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

    This story is also in NZ newspapers today.

    I at first parsed "Woman burned as a baby …" along the lines "Woman burned as a witch …"

  7. DWalker said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 5:11 pm

    Two commas added to the headline would have helped immensely:

    Woman, burned as a baby, tracks down nurse who cared for her

    But I know that commas are verboten in the Headlinese language.

  8. David Morris said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 5:43 pm

    The baby in the movie 'Baby's Day Out' ( was resourceful enough to potentially track down a nurse and certainly burned the bad guy.

  9. Rubrick said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 5:52 pm

    Rome burned as Nero fiddled…

  10. Jacob said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 8:10 pm

    Gonzo Fiddles While George Burns

  11. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 30, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

    The abbreviated "Baby tracks down a nurse" has its own ambiguity. I was picturing a nurse with baby tracks all over her scrubs.

    (Best not to ask what those tracks are made of.)

  12. Isla said,

    October 1, 2015 @ 4:17 am

    This took me a ridiculously long time to parse correctly…

  13. Sarah said,

    October 1, 2015 @ 9:01 am

    I also saw this article and was confused – I thought the woman was burned in the metaphorical slangy sense, that is, she was humiliated/insulted by the baby's action of tracking down the nurse. (

  14. popegrutch said,

    October 1, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

    This headline reminded me of an Intertitle I read last night while watching the DW Griffith film "The Battle at Elderbush Gulch." It read:
    "The proud father leaves the baby in charge of fond admirers."
    A moment later, when all heck broke loose from an Indian attack, I thought, "well, that's what happens when you leave a baby in charge!"
    The move can be seen here: The Intertitle occurs at about 14:45.

  15. Bloix said,

    October 1, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

    I first read it as "baby tracks" are these things that knocked a nurse down, which somehow caused a woman to be burned.

  16. David Kathman said,

    October 2, 2015 @ 10:25 am

    I read this article in the paper edition of the Chicago Tribune the other day and had no trouble parsing it; in fact, when I saw this post, it took me a second to figure out what was supposed to be wrong with it. It's always interesting to me how differently people can perceive the same text.

  17. TheStrawMan said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 12:00 am

    Funny. I had absolutely no problem parsing this headline upon first glance.
    Nor do I usually have any problems with the vast majority of the headline "crash blossoms" pointed out on this blog. Probably because the proposed misunderstanding is nonsensical and impossible (ie, a baby tracking down a nurse). Also the"as a baby" automatically connected to "the woman" for me making it a single idea. So I had no problem understanding its connection to the second part of the sentence.

    More interesting to me (in the sense that I want to learn about them so as to avoid them in my own writing) are true "garden paths" that have multiple plausible interpretations such as the one below from a discussion about university reform in Japan:

    " The problem, you see, is that there are consequences for failing students: first, if you are a hard marker, they will not register for your classes in the future…"

    I first read the "consequences for failing students" as meaning "consequences for students who are failing" and not "consequences for professors who fail students"

  18. Graeme said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 4:02 am

    Took me five reads to decode the heading; but it took my 10 and 12 year old girls just one!

    "Infant burn victim tracks down nurse, 38 years on" is both shorter and more informative. Unless the gender matters.

    Are confused readers click baitees? I'd imagine the reverse.

  19. Florence Artur said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 11:52 am

    I'm with Gregory: at first I pictured baby feet tracks down a nurse's body.

  20. chris said,

    October 3, 2015 @ 7:16 pm

    It's a sad commentary on the lack of privacy in modern society when tracking someone down is so easy even a baby can do it.

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