Change orders pressure

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An impressively ambiguous headline: Benjamin Kabak, "Second Ave. change orders pressure December completion", 6/27/2016.

[h/t Anschel Schaffer-Cohen]

Update — as Anschel Schaffer-Cohen observed in sending this in, the ambiguity is likely to send many readers down a garden path and catch them up short at some point around "December". Those who are all too familiar with "change orders" are likely to avoid this problem.


  1. Dick Margulis said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 6:53 am

    While change orders is construction industry jargon, it should be familiar to any literate person who follows news about major construction projects in the daily paper, so finding impressive ambiguity there is a bit of a stretch. It seems like a perfectly fine example of US headlinese.

  2. Ellen K. said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 7:54 am

    Dick, it's probably appropriate for them to assume that the headline will be read by normal ordinary folks and not just those who follow news about major construction projects. I've sure never heard the term, and I am quite literate, though I don't follow major construction projects in the paper.

    I don't find the headline ambiguous though. Rather, it's a garden path. Seeing it as ambiguous would require reading "pressure December changes" as a noun phrase, which doesn't work for me.

  3. Brett said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 9:59 am

    I've heard "change orders" from engineers, but not ones working on street or building construction. I'm not an avid follower of construction news, but I've read plenty about the topic over the years.

  4. John Roth said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 10:44 am

    Anyone who's in software development ought to be able to figure this one out relatively easily, since changes are an unfortunate result of PHB syndrome, leading to cost overruns and late projects

  5. DWalker said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 12:20 pm

    December needs more pressure; the Christmas shopping season is not enough.

  6. Chris Kern said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

    I agree with Ellen K.; I'm literate but am not familiar with this term.

  7. BZ said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 2:25 pm

    Even after you get past "change orders", what is "pressure" doing here? I had to read the article to find out that it apparently means "cause something to become under pressure". I don't have that meaning of "to pressure". To me you can pressure someone to do something a quickly as possible, the opposite of what it means here. In addition, in its only mention of the word
    "pressure" the article says "the project is increasingly under pressure as deadlines slip and testing gears up". This makes no sense to me at all. If a project I worked on was "under pressure" I would be required to constantly work overtime to make sure it's done on time, again, the opposite of what's apparently meant here.

  8. BZ said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

    P.S. In case I did not make it clear, you can pressure a person or a team. You cannot pressure "December completion" regardless of what it is meant to convey.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

    It strikes me as significant that it's not a major-media site run by a profit-making news organization, but a blog covering somewhat specialized subject matter and presumably written to at least some extent from an enthusiast/buff POV for an assumed enthusiast/buff audience. Well, it may be a bit more complicated ,because lots of New Yorkers are interested in what's going on with the subways without being part of the smallish coterie of actual subway enthusiasts/buffs. But I think it's not unreasonable for that larger audience to accept that if they're going to get detailed high-quality writing from unpaid volunteers on something they're casually interested in, it may reflect the priorities and perspectives of those with a sufficiently high level of buffishness that they are willing to work on the topic for free. So a certain amount of insider jargon (or even nerdview) is thus an acceptable price to pay.

    In other words, I agree that "change orders" is too obscure/confusing to be used in a headline for a mass-circulation newspaper, but that just ain't the genre of publication this particular headline came from.

    As to BZ's points, I had no trouble with the verb "pressure" given the context of headlinese. It might be weird in ordinary running prose, but I don't have trouble in the headline context as reading it to mean "pressure [those individuals or entities who are supposed to be responsible for] December completion."

  10. Brett said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 6:57 pm

    @BZ: I didn't even notice the problem with the verb "pressure." I guess I interpreted it just as J. W. Brewer did. However, once you had pointed the issue out, it seemed obviously wrong.

  11. Viseguy said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 8:46 pm

    As a lifelong New Yorker, it never occurred to me not to read "subway" into "Second Ave."

    As a citizen of the world, and post-Brexit, I read it as "Second Ave. subway cock-change orders shit-pressure December jizz-completion" — and it makes total sense.

  12. Neil said,

    June 29, 2016 @ 9:37 pm

    I'm an architect – one who has had to deal with NYCDOT sidewalk coloration issues, no less! – what actually read as odd to me was the second half of the sentence. Change orders are jargon I'm used to, so perhaps I'm inured to its strangeness. Saying "change orders" points clearly to cumbersome contract-requireed changes issued by the owner, which is always somebody's fault. Contractors hate them and love to complain about them.

    But "pressure December opening?" Endanger? Put in doubt? That second verb feels unrelated.

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