No excuses!

« previous post | next post »

From reader Paul Sleigh, the crash blossom of the week: "Mansell guilty of missing businessman's murder", ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News, 11/7/2011. Paul offers a lesson in Australian manners:

Obviously, if you tell someone you're going to be attending a businessman's murder, you damn well better be there on time! None of this "I missed my train" rubbish!


  1. Nik Berry said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    I had to tip my head and squint to see the crash blossom – reads perfectly to my UK eyes.

  2. Rube said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    What I find interesting about this one is that "Mansell guilty IN missing businessman's murder" uses exactly the same number of letters, follows exactly the same headlinese conventions, and doesn't give rise to the ambiguity.

  3. kktkkr said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 10:55 am

    I feel so bad laughing about the headline but it's really that bad.

    @Rube I still think of that as ambiguous. Perhaps it's because I pretty much ignore prepositions in headlines.

  4. Peter said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 10:58 am

    @Rube: it would introduce a different ambiguity, though. “Alice guilty of Bob’s murder” means that Alice murdered Bob. “Alice guilty in Bob’s murder” allows that she might have been just, say, the getaway driver. (At least to my originally British, now somewhat Americanised, ear.)

  5. Ben Hemmens said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    "guilty of murdering missing businessman" is just 1 character longer.

    Doesn't look too critical in the screenshot, plenty of space to the right in this rendering.

  6. Brad said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 11:43 am

    I wonder if the ambiguity isn't directly proportional to how concerned the reader is about an upcoming meeting?

    "Guilty of [failing to attend] man's murder" is certainly a possible interpretation, I'm just now sure how much preference it would be given to the other interpretations.

  7. pj said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

    Wait, the problem is that there's two characters too many.

    'Mansell guilty of missing businessman murder' would have done for the British media (and to me appears, in this case, less ambiguous).
    These Australians are so profligate with their 'ses

  8. Will said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    @Nik Berry, I also had to look carefully to find the crash blossom, and I have American eyes. I am so accustomed to seeing "missing" always being used as an adjective in headlines that I didn't even consider the alternative meaning until I was looking for the crash blossom.

  9. Jonathan D said,

    November 7, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

    Rube, to me the 'in' is more likely to make me miss the intention than the 'of'…

  10. Lauren Gundrum said,

    November 8, 2011 @ 11:09 am

    Perhaps if they stuck a "the" in there it would be less bad… "Mansell guilty of the missing businessman's murder"

  11. möngke said,

    November 8, 2011 @ 11:57 am

    Huh? This reads perfectly fine to me, and I'm not even a native speaker. I guess the presence of "murder" makes everything much less ambiguous – how often do people "attend" murders, anyway?

    I'd give it 2/5 for Crash Blossom Awesomeness, being charitable.

  12. hh said,

    November 8, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    So the best crash blossoms are ones where world knowledge supports both the intended and unintended interpretations? I think people usually report crash blossoms when the unintended interpretation is implausible or weird, because that's what makes them amusing.

    "Mansell responsible for missing businessman's birthday party" is one where both readings are plausible, but it just looks like a boring syntactic ambiguity to me. I think you'd have to have a bizarre sense of humor to find this more awesome.

  13. Chandra said,

    November 8, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

    To me, the best crash blossoms are the ones where, due to questionable syntax, the implausible or weird interpretation is the one that nonetheless jumps out at you first. The harder it is to parse the intended meaning, the "better". This one is funny enough, but pretty easy to figure out.

  14. Chandra said,

    November 8, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

    This one, for example, gets highest marks from me in Crash-Blossomy Awesomeness:

  15. A.M. said,

    November 8, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

    D'ya wonder if journalists sometimes do it intentionally?
    I mean, the news itself doesn't hold much interest in it, even for most of those who follow the trial just reading the headline will suffice. But if many readers notice ambiguity or something like that, begin discussing it online, post links to the news on their blogs and twitters, that would mean much more attention to the news source. Granted, the attention in this case is unwarranted, but in the Internet media the old truth that bad publicity is better than good ignorance is true squared – a lot of visits to the news source's web page will improve the formal values of the page's ratings, like search result positions, etc, regardles of the motivation of the visitors.

  16. Janice Byer said,

    November 9, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    A.M., yes, I, for one, have long wondered just that. MSM news headlines are reportedly written not by the bylined writers, but by staff farther along the production line, working on the final layout, tasked with filling an allotted space. The temptation to play with the few words one contributes to whatever extent department protocol allows or possibly encourages would, for me, be irresistible.

  17. nbm said,

    November 12, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    I found myself wondering how anyone could be convicted of murder if the victim was missing. Surely Australian justice, like American, requires a body? But of course "missing businessman" is his designation, not his status.

  18. Circe said,

    November 12, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

    Perhaps I was primed for it by the introductory quote, but I actually thought for a split second why someone would be convicted of missing someone else's murder (or even their own murder, for that matter).

    "guilty of murder of missing businessman"? (uses the same number of non-whitespace characters).

RSS feed for comments on this post