Drunk dog driver

« previous post | next post »

"NY man seeking help for stray dog arrested for DWI", AP, 5/30/2010.

Or, if you prefer, "NY man trying to rescue stray dog arrested for DWI", Albany Times-Union, 5/30/2010.

Some other headline-writers dodged this particular ambiguity: "NY man rescues stray dog and gets arrested for drunk driving", Spokane Examiner; or the original story, "Man with stray dog drives drunk to police station, cops say", Times Herald-Record.

[Such are the perils of adding recursive compositionality to a language without vocalized parentheses…]

[Hat tip to Andre Mayer]


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

    I have always been curious about the horror copulae of American headline writing, which seems to be the main fertilizer of crash blossoms. Surely the excision of little words like "is" or "are" can't be that much of a space saver.
    I recently saw a headline reading something like "Malia asked the wrong question" and I interpreted it, out of habit, as meaning "Malia was asked the wrong questions, before I realized that asked was in fact a finite verb in the past tense, not a participle.

  2. exackerly said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    The Times has

    NY Man Seeking Help for Stray Dog Arrested for DWI

    I guess that works, but I still don't see why "is" is such no-no…

  3. Vlad said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 11:17 pm

    The irony is even deeper in this case, because the guy's last name, "Nayda", is a common dog name in Russian-speaking countries (it carries connotations of "one that was found", "найденная, найденный, Найда").

  4. Aaron Toivo said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

    Boy, someone messed up. They could have taken care of the crash blossom, given the headline more punch, and explained the whole situation in one go if they'd just written "Would-be dog rescuer arrested for DWI".

  5. Tom said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 11:44 pm

    I dunno, I got this one without any trouble. Maybe I'm just getting too used to parsing these…

  6. Ellen K. said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 2:59 am

    Yes, Tom, this one is easy to parse. Two possible readings, one of which is non-sensical, and the other quite plausible. But it's still grammatically ambiguous, and crash-blossomy.

  7. Kylopod said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 4:24 am

    I once hit a stray dog with a car. How he got a car I'll never know.

  8. Kylopod said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 4:25 am

    Oops! In the Marxian tradition, that should read:

    I once hit a stray dog with my car. How he got my car I'll never know.

  9. Rubrick said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 6:14 am

    What I want to know: According to journalistic tradition, is "Bite Dogs Man" news or not?

  10. Damien Hall said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 7:55 am

    Crash-blossoms with this particular story seem a difficult temptation to avoid! I see the Times Herald-Record,while trying to avoid the implication that canine drunk-driving is the newest problem to hit our streets, instead tells us ('Man with stray dog drives drunk to police station, police say') that a man, who happened to have a stray dog, came across a drunk and, from a desire to do good in society, decided to drive them to the police station (no doubt in order to have them cautioned for public drunkenness). The police's no doubt grateful reaction to this public-spirited effort to help someone in distress is not recorded.

  11. Private Zydeco said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 8:08 am

    Stray dog arrested for DWI. NY Man Seeking Help.

    Where IS the drunk dog, driver?

  12. Army1987 said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 8:53 am

    Huh? I immediately got the intended meaning and had to read it five times before finding the other one. Probably because I know that dogs are very much less likely to be arrested than men.

  13. Stephen said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 9:02 am

    Yup, I agree with Army1987. I found this one quite clear–not up there with "Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim" and the like.

  14. David L said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    Interesting contrast between this headline and the previous one (about missing police women remaining found, or something). The UK one was baffling to me, and even after being told what is was supposed to mean, I had trouble seeing how it was supposed to mean that. The US one, on the other hand, makes perfect sense to me, and I think one would have to be deliberately looking for perverse misreadings to get it wrong.

    As it happens, I grew up in the UK but have lived in the US for many years, so I suppose I have absorbed the ways of US headline-writing and lost touch with British norms.

  15. Ben said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 10:38 am

    He should contact AASPCA.

    I don't know why I feel the need to share things like that.

  16. Topher said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

    The book "Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim" (alluded to by Stephen) is a collection of bad headlines (and captions and a few other cases) collected by the Columbia Journalism Review. A few are not Crash Blossoms (they include, for example, the infamous "More Mush From The Wimp") but most are. My favorite has always been the pithy "Milk Drinkers Turn to Powder".

    This also reminds me of "The Dog-Walking Ordinance" originally from "The Reader Over Your Shoulder" by Graves and Hodge but better known from Nagel's essay rendering it in symbolic logic notation in volume 3 of Newman's "The World of Mathematics". I found a (probably copyright violating) copy of it at , do a find for "dog walking" after following the link.

  17. Christopher Henrich said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    Vocalized parentheses – now there's an interesting feature. In written English we make do with commas after man and dog; in spoken English, there would be corresponding pauses. But I wonder: does any natural language have actual words that function as parentheses?

    Having just finished Arika Okrent's fine book In the Land of Invented Languages, I am sure that somewhere, somebody has tried this. I wouldn't put it past the makers of Lojban.

  18. Margrit said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

    I can't resist reporting this item from yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald:

    'After two years of schoolyard threats, taunts and violent assaults, 14-year-old Alex committed suicide near Lismore. Police formally cautioned two students after admitting they attacked Alex at school and posted threats on MySpace and MSN chat.'

  19. Michael said,

    June 1, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    Have you considered the idea that Crash Blossoms are intentional? They make you read and reread the title, then go into the article for clarification. A pretty efficient way to attract readers!

  20. Paul Mulshine said,

    June 1, 2010 @ 11:20 am

    In defense of the headline writer, this is not so much an error as a problem stemming from trying to cram all that information on one line. There is an "is" that has been left out between "dog" and "arrested." If the reader understands this, the problem goes away. Newspaper headline writers do this all the time and expect the reader to add the missing words or words. I'm not sure this qualifies as a crash blossom, since that is an entirely different construction.

  21. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

    Duncan Black on his Eschaton Blog has a post today headed "Making Me Miss Brussels." My reaction was, what? You can't be Miss Brussels, you're not even Belgian!

  22. Sam said,

    June 2, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    There's a great one today in the NY Post:
    "The grieving, pregnant girlfriend of newsman Ted Koppel's son broke her silence today about his shocking death after a day-long drinking binge."
    Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/ted_koppel_son_girlfriend_says_she_RGoN8qR4f1oY8OlRzPeFuN#ixzz0piX4SDGJ

  23. Aaron Davies said,

    June 2, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

    @Christopher Henrich: yes, lojban has them, in many varieties, actually–they're it's main means of being technically "unambiguous"–any given grammatical string of lojban words has exactly one possible parsing, and paired verbal grouping words are inserted wherever required to guarantee this. (any given string of sounds or letters also has exactly one possible lexing (to use the compiler writers' term) into words, due to phonotactic(? ianalingust…) constraints.)

    ke and ke'e are one such pair; see this chapter on tanru grouping for details.

  24. David J Swift said,

    June 4, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    Not quite the same thing but I gotta share this with someone. There was a primary race in Idaho last week you may have read about if you follow teabggery. Building up to Tuesday's election a paper ran the headline:

    Labrador, Ward in Heat

  25. Ian Duncan said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 12:52 am

    When I trien to get a closer look at the article, a little sign appeared, bearing the legend "click to embiggen".

    Embiggen? Is that a joke I missed?

    [(myl) Yes.]

  26. Weekly War Bulletin, 26 June « At War With The Motorist said,

    June 26, 2010 @ 8:16 am

    […] arrested for driving while […]

RSS feed for comments on this post