Radiation risk from flying dwarfs

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And then there's something about body scanners:

Agreed, it would be a better joke if the headline was divided after DWARFS.

[Update — or undivided, as in this version:

And yes, Discover did run a story on the role of psychics in protecting planes from terrorists.]

[Tip of the hat to Sarah Creel.]


  1. Army1987 said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 7:10 am

    With the line break after "flying", it was nearly impossible that I would be taken down the garden path.

  2. richard howland-bolton said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 7:20 am

    No doubt Cherenkov radiation from the dwarfs as they pass the speed of light in the media.

  3. stormboy said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 7:48 am

    I'm afraid I immediately had images of Disney-style dwarfs hovering over the scanners.

  4. notrequired said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 8:00 am

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a flying dwarf!

  5. NW said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    An apostrophe is missing. Flying dwarfs' body scanners are for checking for pieces of poisoned apple. They were installed after that tragic princess business.

  6. Mark P said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 8:19 am

    I love this. For one confused, fleeting moment I feel like I'm living in a Disney or Tolkien world. The Disney world would probably be happier but the Tolkien world would probably be more interesting.

  7. Chris said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 8:26 am

    Yeah, but in the Tolkien world, they'd be radioactive, flying *dwarves*.

    [(myl) Indeed.]

  8. Adriana said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 9:00 am

    yes, but as the first few words are the subject of the sentence, you cannot place a comma between the subject and the verb, however many words compose the subject. It did make me laugh, though.

  9. Bob Couttie said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 9:13 am

    Related to this lady?

    Atlanta Woman Unfound While On Sailing Trip

  10. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 9:23 am

    It reminds me of one of the all-time great book titles, "Dwarf Rapes Nun, Escapes in UFO."

  11. Mark P said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 9:31 am

    OK, but what would Cronenberg call them?

  12. KCinDC said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 9:41 am

    It's December. Maybe they meant flying elves?

  13. Ellen K. said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    Adriana, what do commas have to do with anything? I don't understand your comment.

  14. John Cowan said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    Not that any of the Nogothrim ever possessed wings of the body, as unnatural to them as to Men.

    The headline seems over-elliptical to me: it means "Radiation risk from flying dwarfs [radiation risk from] body scanners", lifting a prepositional object into a direct object. I didn't think English could do that.

  15. John said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 10:20 am

    I'm with ARMY1987, not even a step on the path.

    And John Cowan is right too, it's wrong as is. Better a simple apostrophe for "scanners'."

  16. Emily said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 11:06 am

    I thought for a moment that "dwarfs" referred to dwarf stars, which do give off radiation, but I don't think they're particularly risky to us here on Earth.

  17. Sarah Creel said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 11:19 am

    When I first saw it, it was on this page, without the line break, and with the preceding context being a discussion of "Psychics and Airline Security":

    It's interesting that the garden path wasn't thrown off by the overregularized plural of dwarf, though I guess it's a (thankfully) rare plural. (Thankfully because it is, I assume, offensive.)

    [(myl) As discussed here, the last century or so of history has "dwarves" as a sort of under-regularized plural, chosen by Tolkien because he didn't think he could get away with "dwarrows". He is explicit that "the dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. ".]

  18. cameron said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

    Readers interested in matters dwarfish/dwarven would do well to have a look at Anatoly Liberman's Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology http://www.amazon.com/Analytic-Dictionary-English-Etymology-Introduction/dp/0816652724/ . The article on dwarf in there is a real masterpiece of etymological research.

    I don't think Anatoly Liberman is any kin to LL's myl. But I don't really have any evidence one way or another.

  19. Brett said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    Since a discussion of the plural of dwarf has arisen again, I wanted to mention what I've observed from working with astrophysicists and astronomers. While the written form of the plural of "white dwarf" is universally "white dwarfs," it can be pronounced with either an f or a v sound, although most individuals typically have a single pronunciation that they stick with almost exclusively.

    In my mind, the fact that the plural has to be "dwarfs" in this case is closely related to the fact that the term arose from shortening "white dwarf star," in which "dwarf" is adjectival; the parsing was originally [white [dwarf star]], although it turned out that "dwarf star" was not so useful a concept as once thought, and the term has largely fallen out of use. (In fact, as I now thing about it, I remember that I wrote "white dwarves" as the plural when I was an elementary school student writing about astronomy, before I knew about the derivation of the term.)

    Most of the other examples where the "dwarfs" plural seems (to me) to be mandatory are similar. When used to refer to bushes or bunnies, "dwarf" is, in my mind, short for "dwarf shrub" or "dwarf rabbit"; this seems to mean that "dwarf" then requires a regular plural, although precisely why is still murky to me. I can't think of any similar examples where "dwarf" modifies another implied noun that has an irregular plural, but that would provide an interesting case.

  20. GeorgeW said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

    I would guess the 'dwarves' plural is based on analogy with wife/wives, knife/knives, half/halves, etc.

    I think my 3rd person, singular verb is [dwarfs] although I don't use it enough to be confident of this.

  21. John Cowan said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

    Brett: Dwarf 'a short member of Homo sapiens' is invariably pluralized dwarfs, though there is no question of an elided head noun here.

    In any case, the Old English form dweorg had a regular plural. The alternative spelling dweorh shows that the final stop was spirantized, which is why the modern form ends in /f/ — dwarf is one of those words like laugh and cough that originally ended in /x/ > /f/, though its spelling has been adjusted.

    In the plural form dweorges, the g preceded a front vowel and became a glide, hence Tolkien's dwarrows. A similar process has given us borough and barrow 'hill' from OE bur(g), beor(g); in these cases the singulars were back-formed from the plurals.

  22. Rubrick said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

    This all results from a mixup between the TSA and the TSR.

  23. Nat said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

    That's unfortunate. I was hoping that 'barrows' was the plural of 'barf' and 'arrows' was the plural of 'arf'.

  24. Brett said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 1:01 am

    @John Cowan: Indeed, when speaking a small human, "dwarfs" is mandatory (almost–I have seen "dwarves" used to refer to real people, but probably only once or twice); but that is the only context I can think of for which the plural must be regualr, yet there is not another noun implicit.

  25. John Cowan said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 4:52 am

    Nat: Well, barf is one of the forms of barrow 'hill' listed by the OED, specifically used in the North of England before 1400.

  26. Army1987 said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 7:56 am

    Dwarfs dominates over dwarves (restricting the search to plural nouns) by a factor of 5.60 on the BNC and 3.00 on the COCA. Given that many occurrences of the former likely refer to stars, the ratio would not be so large if only occurrences referring to people were counted.

  27. Army1987 said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 8:00 am

    I was going to write "or human-like fictional/mythological beings" but I forgot to.

  28. Julie said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

    Those are "people" too, aren't they?

  29. neil said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    The haedline is correct–they give off ELF emissions.

  30. Aaron Davies said,

    December 5, 2010 @ 1:43 am

    @GeorgeW: "dwarfs" is the inflection for the verb, just as "knifes" is the inflection for "to (stab with a) knife"

  31. Matthew Moppett said,

    December 5, 2010 @ 4:07 am

    @John Cowan: Are you sure you're right about Old English plurals? According to Mitchell & Robinson's Guide to Old English, -as is the strong masculine plural inflection for nouns, and -es only appears in masculine and neuter genitive singular forms.

    At any rate it would be curious if the back vowels in *dwarrow, barrow and borough (before it was reduced to a shwa) are derived from a shift from /g/ to /j/ as was usual for g before a front vowel. On the other hand, the later shift from /g/ to /w/ was common intervocally or after l or r (c.f. dragan –> draw).

  32. Colin John said,

    December 6, 2010 @ 8:52 am

    @Nat / John Cowan. Barf is the name of a hill in the English Lake District, just West of Keswick. There is a prominent pillar of rock on its slopes which is known as The Bishop of Barf.In this case the etymology is clearly related to barrow.

  33. John Cowan said,

    December 9, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    Matthew Moppett: You're absolutely right. "Poste in haste, repent at leisure."

  34. Just another Peter said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

    Is this article at all related to the next post about Gnomeland Security?

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