Lightning strike crash blossom

« previous post | next post »

Josh Fruhlinger sends along a sublime crash blossom from BBC News: "Dog helps lightning strike Redruth mayor." Requisite screenshot in case it changes:

The dog in question doesn't help lightning strike the mayor of Redruth, of course (though that sounds like a great movie premise). Rather, the dog helps the mayor of Redruth, who, in BBC Brit head noun pile style, has been dubbed "lightning strike Redruth mayor" after being struck by lightning.

This one evokes the classic crash blossom, "Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim," but with extra opacity for readers unfamiliar with the noun pileups of British headlines. Coming across a crash blossom this tasty is almost as rare as getting struck by… well, you know.


  1. David said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    I don't get it; "Dog helps lightning struke Redruth mayor" is the same number of letters and is more grammatical.

  2. jfruh said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    @ David, I'm assuming you mean "struck", yes? At any rate, headlines like these make me think that BBC subeditors are starting to speak noun pile natively, or are engaged in some kind of competition with one another over whose headlines can be the noun piley-est.

  3. Dw said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 3:20 pm


    From now on, you shall be referred to as:

    UK headlines "ungrammatical" row blog commenter

  4. Chandra said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    @jfruh – Or they have learned of our fascination with crash blossoms, and are competing to see who can lead us down the most convoluted of garden paths to collide with the most flowery of word-shrubberies and become entangled in the thorniest of headlinese grammar.

  5. Rubrick said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    "Dog helps lightning strike Redruth mayor" is not news. "Mayor helps lightning strike Redruth dog" — now that's news.

  6. Carl Burke said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

    It doesn't even seem like a very good noun pile. I can understand 'lightning strike victim', the poor unfortunate was the victim of a lightning strike, but how can someone be the Redruth mayor of a lightning strike? The Englishes are not merely drifting apart, they are being forcefully pushed.

  7. D. Fear said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    Was it not American newspapers that started with this, way back when? Whatever the case may be, it is spreading – provides us with something to laugh about.

    What are 'dog helps' anyhow? *author of comment winces*

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

    @Carl Burke: In BBC Brit head noun pile style (lovely phrase, Ben), “A B”, where A and B are noun phrases, just means “some B that has something to do with A”. The Redruth Mayor had something to do with a lightning strike, and nothing more is implied.

  9. The Ridger said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

    No, Carl. He's the mayor of Redruth, and Redruth simply must be the next-to-the-head noun in any noun-noun modification. So he's the lightning strike Redruth mayor rather than the dead cow Redruth mayor or the high taxes Redruth mayor or the young woman blackmail plot Redruth mayor (all made up, don't see me, litigation loving Redruth mayor!).

    I concede it seems a bit overspecified, but perhaps lightning strike mayor has several possible referents?

  10. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    @Eric P Smith: But "Redruth mayor" already identifies a specific individual, so A is non-restrictive: rather than meaning "some B that has something to do with A", as you say, it actually means "B, who, by the way, has something to do with A" in this case. BBC Brit head noun pile style always confuses American me, but I find examples where A is non-restrictive to be especially bad.

  11. gula said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

    The mayor of Redruth is apparently famous for his role in the blitz walkout of the canine assistants.

  12. Eric P Smith said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

    @Ran Ari-Gur: Part of the charm (to a Brit!) of the British noun pile is that it can be used either way.

    Although (in the UK) Prime Minister identifies a specific individual, we can say either “the embarrassed Prime Minister was forced to withdraw” or “an embarrassed Prime Minister was forced to withdraw”. If a headline says, “embarrassed Prime Minister is forced to withdraw” I tend to think of it as headlinese for “an embarrassed Prime Minister” rather than “the embarrassed Prime Minister”, though the meaning is the same in either case.

    In British noun-pile headlinese, we can substitute a noun (or a noun phrase) for the adjective embarrassed, and say for example, “Campaign gaffe Prime minister calls voter a bigot”. (That was a real headline.) A campaign gaffe Prime Minister, or The campaign gaffe Prime Minister? It doesn’t matter. Personally I think of it as a campaign gaffe Prime Minister.

    I know that “lightning strike Redruth mayor” when Redruth mayor already identifies a specific individual, has odd features. I quite understand why Americans find it particularly confusing. But, believe me, to a Brit it is just fine. Vive la différence!

  13. pj said,

    October 28, 2011 @ 3:16 am

    Well, to this Brit, I'm not sure it's exactly 'just fine'. It's 'just fine' in the same sense that it's 'just fine' that it's once again grey and damp and chilly this morning. It's par for the course; it's a non-negotiable part of the environment that I'm in. But I still give a slightly disappointed 'Ugh, really?' when I look out of the window, and when I look at an ill-thought-out noun pile. I would contend that this is not really a competently written headline, no matter how British you are.

  14. Adrian said,

    October 28, 2011 @ 4:40 am

    The only problem here (given that one is accustomed to headlinese) is that we've become allergic to hyphens. It should be: "Dog helps lightning-strike Redruth mayor".

  15. Jeff J said,

    October 28, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

    Look, I can easily understand "campaign gaffe Prime Minister" as "the Prime Minister who committed a campaign gaffe," but how in the hell am I supposed to interpret "lightning strike Redruth mayor"? "The mayor of Redruth who was responsible for a lightning strike"? Who is this guy, Zeus?

  16. Eric P Smith said,

    October 28, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    @Jeff J: No, merely the Mayor of Redruth who has something to do with a lightning strike: see my first comment above. Given that the Mayor of Redruth is not Zeus, I suggest that the relation between him and the lightning strike is quite easy to guess.

  17. Janice Byer said,

    October 28, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

    "Plane crashes on Vancouver street" also on suggests to me a collision with some thoroughfare so renown only a poorly read and traveled shmo such as me or, if you prefer, I wouldn't know from it. Even after I linked and read "Plane crashes on Vancouver street in Canada" did I get a clue from the lower case "s".

  18. lucia said,

    October 29, 2011 @ 9:05 am

    Eric P Smith said
    I know that “lightning strike Redruth mayor” when Redruth mayor already identifies a specific individual, has odd features. I quite understand why Americans find it particularly confusing. But, believe me, to a Brit it is just fine. Vive la différence!
    I'm not sure this is a purely "American/British" issue.

    I'm an American. If you lift the phrase “lightning strike Redruth mayor” out of the sentence, my first read is to recognize this as 3 nouns modifying "mayor". However, the word "strike" can read as a verb. In the headline, my first read is to interpret "strike" as a verb. I can't help but imagine that at least some British might read "strike" as a verb when they first come across the word in that headline.

  19. a George said,

    October 29, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    — how many strikes, and you are out?

  20. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    October 29, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    'Lightning strike' can (or at least could, historically) mean a strike (in the sense of a suspension of work) that is organised at very short notice. In that sense the mayor might be responsible for one.

  21. Janice Byer said,

    October 29, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

    "I'm an American. If you lift the phrase “lightning strike Redruth mayor” out of the sentence, my first read is to recognize this as 3 nouns modifying "mayor"."

    Yes! It stuck me like lightning that the headline would make perfect sense to us yanks, if we discounted the lower case "L" and "S" and the lack of scare quotes as a kinda reverse cupertino and further assumed the mayor, like a certain former governor on our side of the Pond, had formerly been a pro wrestler.

    For fun, I plugged the mayor's name into one of the many web pro wrestling name generators and would you believe the software coughed up "Lightning Tiger" Red Ruth?

    I had to pretend the innocent Telegraph had further erred in smooshing the mayor's name. I cheated in part because "Redruth" generated "Psycho Sizzle" which wouldn't do for an elected official.

  22. Ziyuan Yao said,

    October 29, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

    Here's a good example of two noun piles showing widely different relations between two nouns:

    1. fire fighter ( = fighter AGAINST fire)
    2. freedom fighter ( = fighter FOR freedom)

    Every noun pile has some implicit relation between the two nouns in it, and sometimes this relation can vary very much.

  23. Janice Byer said,

    November 1, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    Ziyuan Yao, further validating your interesting point is the 360 degrees of separation between:

    1. war protestor
    2. anti-war protestor

    The implication of hooking up for participants seems highly dependent on one's its position in the relation, which is inherently unequal. annily like that of a linear functions ion functions are inherently unequal in their implications for the nouns involved, depending on their position , .seems

  24. Janice Byer said,

    November 1, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    Yikes. Please pay no attention to that mess of a paragraph at the end of my preceding comment, which I accidentally submitted somehow prior to cohering and cleaning up. I apologize. I'll get my coat.

  25. Andy said,

    November 12, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    Am I the only one trying to figure out how a dog can influence lightning to hit a mayor?

  26. Chad said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 11:29 am

    I've realized by now that British headline writers have an aversion to hyphens, but while the grammatically correct way would be "lightning-strike", they could get the same effect across by creating a new compound word, "lightningstrike".

RSS feed for comments on this post