Headline puzzle of the week

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Vic Marks, "No Stokes is not no Ashes hope if England stick together in Australia", The Guardian 10/29/2017.

Taking into account the Guardian's headline register, and decoding the article to some extent, I conclude that the intended analysis ain't no negative concord.
Rather, the structure is

[[No Stokes] is not [no Ashes hope]] [if England stick together]

and the interpretation is

the fact that player Ben Stokes may be unavailable doesn't entail that England has no hope of winning the Ashes cricket match

So not this but this.

The obligatory screenshot:

[h/t Michael Glazer]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 9:03 am

    Cricket speak has always eluded me, but this takes the cake.

  2. Bathrobe said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 9:14 am

    Even for someone like me who is not interested in cricket and has no idea who Ben Stokes is, it wasn't particularly hard to decipher. The key is the fact that the Ashes are England-Australia cricket competitions. "No Ashes hope" has to be "no hope of winning the Ashes". After that, the rest falls into place.

  3. AB said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 9:14 am

    The Ashes is not a match but a series.

  4. ===Dan said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 10:15 am

    Could there be kind of a pun intended, along the way, to account for the awkwardness? Stoking the fire? Doesn't seem like everyday headlinese.

  5. Robert Coren said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 10:16 am

    I couldn't parse it, but I was able to guess that it had to do with sports (I was guessing football, because I don't recall every hearing of "Ashes" and cricket didn't occur to me for some reason), and that "Stokes" was probably the name of a player. "[I]f England stick together" was the key.

  6. Markonsea said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 10:23 am

    I read it as:

    "The fact that player Ben Stokes may be unavailable doesn't entail that England will not win the Ashes [series], is the hope."

    But it adds up to the same thing as Mark gets from it – which is often not the case with alternative readings of headlinese.

  7. Bob Ladd said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 10:31 am

    What Bathrobe said. As long as you know about the Ashes, the rest is pretty straightforward.

  8. Andrew Usher said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 10:31 am

    I got it the first time; I don't think it's particularly 'cricket speak' nor headline-ese, at least not very much so. I assume anyone seeing this would at least know it's sports and could guess that 'Ashes' is some kind of match and (by elimination at least) 'Stokes' is a player's name, and then it falls into place.

    It's a pretty dumb thing to say, of course, but is most sports reporting, by its nature. It wouldn't do to admit that the outcome of sporting events is more-or-less random, as that would be no story, so one must be invented for every situation, and it can just be head-scratching ("If England stick together" … what else are they going to do?).

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  9. Rodger C said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 11:33 am

    You mean "What else are it going to do?"

  10. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 11:35 am

    I'm an American but I'm also a sports historian who knows about the Ashes, so I parsed it rather quickly, thought it was a puzzlement at first glance.
    I suspect sports may be the area in which the U.S.A. and Great Britain are most divided by their common language. Some years ago, when World Series games were still played in daylight, I was sitting next to a visiting Englishman in a bar where a number of us had gathered to watch the World Series.
    He asked if I would mind his asking questions about things that puzzled him, since he knew very little about baseball. Of course, I said I'd be happy to answer any of his questions.
    When the play-by-play announcer said something like, "The pitch is low and outside. That's a ball," the Englishman leaned toward me and asked, "Why does he feel compelled to tell us it's a ball? Surely that's obvious. We can see it's a ball!"
    It took quite a while to explain that.

  11. nick m said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

    Some pitches in Darjeeling or Nilgiri may not be uniformly low, but you would hope even those are thoroughly inside the ground.

  12. chris said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 2:52 pm

    If they actually cared about comprehensibility to laypeople, "England can win Ashes without Stokes if they stick together" would be much clearer, but I agree that if the intended audience already knows what the Ashes are and who Stokes is, then the meaning probably isn't going to give them any trouble. They will immediately infer (if they didn't know it already) that there is a possibility of Stokes being unable to play, and putting that together with his reputation as a player will lead to the possibility that it could negatively affect England's chances.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 2:52 pm

    Ralph Hickok: Did you try telling him that a ball in baseball is something like a no ball in cricket?

    Andrew Usher: It can happen that members of a team get hostile to each other and don't play well as a result.

    Apparently since England has/have less cast iron than usual, they have to be unusually fluid and stick together.

  14. Levantine said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

    It's been changed to "Ashes 2017: If Ben Stokes is missing England must stick together in Australia", which is about as far as you can get from the original (to me unintelligible) headlinese.

  15. CuConnacht said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 4:41 pm

    I see that Bathrobe says "The Ashes are . . . . "

    I'm American, but I believe it is "The Ashes is." (But, in this context, "England are.")

  16. Jonathan D said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 4:59 pm

    CuConnacht, not that Bathrobe said "The Ashes are … competitions.

  17. Phil Ramsden said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

    Yeah, look, this isn't "cricket-speak" so much as a kind of ill-carpentered headline that is a bit easier to untangle if you know what The Ashes means.

  18. John Lawler said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

    I, too, know of the Ashes, so decoding the headline was no problem until I came to the last clause, [if England stick together]. My question was whether the uninflected stick instead of sticks is intended to be subjunctive (like if this be treason), or whether it's just the UK propensity to make group names plural for agreement (England have won the title. I spose it's the latter, but it gave me a turn at first.

  19. Viseguy said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 7:48 pm

    When I followed the link (2017-10-30 00:40 UTC ), the headline had been changed to "Ashes 2017: If Ben Stokes is missing England must stick together in Australia". This means nothing to me, but at least I can parse it. As far as I'm concerned, the earlier headline might as well have been, "Read the article, you idiot!"

  20. Adrian said,

    October 29, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

    [[no Stokes] is not [no Ashes]] hope, i.e. a hope that 0 S =/= 0 A.

  21. ajay said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 4:52 am

    whether it's just the UK propensity to make group names plural for agreement

    It's pretty universal in UK newspaper style guides that companies (even with plural names) are singular, while sports teams (even with singular names) are plural. So "Johnson & Johnson reports record profits" or "Lehman Brothers collapses" but "England win Ashes".

    The tricky bit comes when you have to write about something that is both a sports team and a company (as many football teams are); in this case it's context dependent, so "Rangers faces bankruptcy" on the business pages, but "Rangers fall short of standard" on the sports pages.

  22. Easterly said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 5:45 am

    @ajay: Thanks for this explanation. I've tried for years to puzzle the rule out on my own without success.

    Re parsing the headline, I know a bit about cricket and the Ashes despite being from the US, so I figured out pretty quickly what the headline had to mean. But parsing it to prove to myself that I'd in fact interpreted it correctly took more than a few rereads.

  23. Rodger C said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 6:47 am

    England expect every man to do their duty.

  24. Keith said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 9:25 am


    When I played softball and baseball, I often used to use the term "no-ball" instead of "ball", to refer to a pitch that didn't go over the plate at the right height; that was a carry-over from cricket terminology.

    And Wikipedia confirms that "a pitch at which the batter does not swing and which does not pass through the strike zone is called a ball (short for 'no ball')"

  25. David L said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 9:58 am

    I would say a 'ball' in baseball is more like a 'wide' in cricket, whereas a 'no ball' in cricket is more like a 'balk' in baseball.

  26. ===Dan said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 10:18 am

    I have never heard of "no ball" in the context of baseball. ("No pitch," yes.) This phrase seems entirely absent in the official MLB rulebook. http://mlb.mlb.com/documents/0/4/0/224919040/2017_Official_Baseball_Rules_dbt69t59.pdf (and see p. 140). I checked the 2014 rulebook too.

    The Wiki article lacks the (supposedly required) reference to support for that bit of history, but the phrase seems to have been added to in June 2013 and apparently untouched since.

  27. Robert Coren said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 11:43 am

    Yeah, I'd never heard of "no ball" either (and, as I'm sure ===Dan knows, "no pitch" is something different from "ball"). I wouldn't find it completely unbelievable that "ball" was shortened from original "no ball", although I'm not sure why a non-strike would have been called that.

    But: the TV broadcasts of the current World Series have microphones placed so one can actually hear what the home plate umpire says after a ball (strike calls are generally pretty loud, although figuring out what word the umpire is actually saying can be a challenge), and last night's umpire often said things like "outside" or "low", but a few times he just said "No, no". (This included an instance where the pitch actually hit the batter, which surprised me.)

  28. BZ said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 11:47 am

    I think "No X no Y" meaning "no X -> no Y" has been discussed at length on LL. The first thing I (AmE) thought of is that this headline is the reverse of that, i.e. "it is not true that no X -> no Y" which turns out to be true, so had I known what Stokes and Ashes were I would have been able to decipher it without a problem. As it is "if England stick together in Australia" was the most puzzling part of the headline, though "Australia Sport" is a big clue once you see the screenshot.

  29. Narmitaj said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 5:50 pm

    Vic Marks, who studied Classics at Oxford, is given to quoting Thucydides in articles about cricket.

    He was also a player, and titled one his books Marks Out of XI, a play on words about his permanence in the England Test team(which has 11 players) – he was only picked six times for national top-flight service.

    Most likely he was not responsible for either headline.

  30. Jichang Lulu said,

    October 30, 2017 @ 7:21 pm

    If Stokes shows up and England stick together, the wide-scope hope reading noted by @Adrian and others

    [[No Stokes] is not [no Ashes]] hope

    predicts hope, but the narrow-scope hope reading in the OP doesn't.

    [no Ashes hope] could also be [[no Ashes] hope]: 'Stokes' absence doesn't warrant hope that England won't win the Ashes'.

  31. Eleanor said,

    October 31, 2017 @ 5:47 am

    The Ashes is a competition, therefore singular, but the teams are competing for possession of the metaphorical ashes of English cricket (declared to have been killed and cremated by Australians in 1882, after which the English team captain was presented with a small urn supposedly containing the real ashes of a burnt bail, which has been notionally passed between the teams ever since – but not literally; the urn stays in the Lord's ground museum, though since 1999 it has been represented by a crystal trophy urn which does change hands), thus one speaks of them as plural, e.g. "the Ashes are coming home" after a win.

    Clear as mud, eh?

  32. Xtifr said,

    October 31, 2017 @ 12:29 pm

    My knowledge of cricket is near-zero, and I had some minor garden-path problems, but it could have been much worse.

    The capitalization made me realize that Stokes and Ashes were proper names. If the headline had been in title case, I would have been wondering which parts of England-the-country were on fire. After all, stoking can definitely lead to ashes. As it was, the thought only flashed through my mind, to be quickly dismissed.

    But then I assumed Stokes and Ashes were both people, and was wondering why the departure of one would mean the departure of the other, and whether England was hoping for or against the possibility of both departing. It took me a moment to realize that the "stick together" part made more sense if "Ashes" was the name of some sort of achievement. Once I realized that, the whole thing fell into place.

  33. Bill said,

    October 31, 2017 @ 4:55 pm

    In the printed version the headline was:
    "No Stokes but Hutton's way can inspire 'no-hopers'"

  34. Bathrobe said,

    October 31, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

    I wonder if 'no-hoper' was a conscious word choice, given that 'no-hoper' is an Australian expression meaning something like 'loser' in U.S. English…

  35. Eric Vinyl said,

    November 2, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

    Ralph Hickok:

    I suspect sports may be the area in which the U.S.A. and Great Britain are most divided by their common language.

    I don’t know about all that. The example you gave was one of different sports, which would be equally opaque to speakers of any variety of English who weren’t familiar with baseball.

    In fact it seems to me that, as in other spheres, Am.E. and Br.E. are getting closer every day. We live in an age where NFL football is fairly familiar to British sports fans and Americans can watch live Premier League games on network television.

    At first it was just the sort of pretentious dweebs who end conversations with “cheers” that called the field a “pitch” and cleats “boots,” but now I think—due to U.S. TV’s Anglophilia—lots of people coming to the sport don’t realize nil and kit aren’t sport-specific words since UK voices are so ubiquitous in North American soccer now (and because they don’t watch other English sports such as cricket or rugby). I even had a MLS/EPL fan (sorry, “supporter”) who follows the sport pretty closely try to tell me that saying “one-nil” instead of “one-nothing” was just the correct term for the sport, the same way zero is “love” in tennis. (How do the eurosnobs who insist that a soccer game must be called a “match” rectify the fact that British announcers commentating European games call it a game all the time? I have no idea… I suppose the unmarked usage just doesn’t register.)

    But I’ve also, in the past few years, heard American announcers (“commentators”) use “nil” (jocularly?) referring to baseball scores.

    Have yet to hear “equalizer” in the U.S. for a home run or touchdown that ties the game, though.

  36. Kerricker said,

    November 8, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

    I've heard of the Ashes and got the general idea, but I jumped to the conclusion that a Stokes must be some other, presumably less prestigious cricket competition played in the run-up to the Ashes event(s). "Well, we lost the Stokes, too bad, but that doesn't necessarily mean we can't win the Ashes!"

  37. JPL said,

    November 10, 2017 @ 6:25 pm

    Good to see the Daily Beast getting into the act:

    "Trump Tower Meet Lawyer's Client May Dump Deal With Feds".

  38. Victor Mair said,

    November 11, 2017 @ 8:28 am


    No colon? No break into two lines?

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