"Doorway to Blame for Room Amnesia"

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Paul Sleigh writes about a headline from the Scientific American website:

I actually felt my brain stretching as I read this one: "Doorway to Blame for Room Amnesia".  Is it a report on the opportunity for recrimination for some kind of space-related memory loss?

<doorway to <blame for <room amnesia>>

Or the loss of memory about a wall entrance leading to guilt regarding part of a house?

<<doorway to <blame for room>> amnesia>

I briefly flirted with the idea that someone with the surname Room was suffering brain injury after hitting his head on a lintel:

<doorway to blame for <[Mr or Ms] Room['s] amnesia>>

… but that seemed unlikely.

Paul reports that he guessed right before clicking through to the article, "but it was a challenge".

Here's the link, and a screenshot:


  1. Ray Girvan said,

    December 10, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

    Oh, yes: definite parsing problems. I first read it as none of Paul's interpretations. I saw a "Doorway to Blame" along the lines of "Road to Perdition".

  2. maidhc said,

    December 10, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

    Both "Doorway to Blame" and "Room Amnesia" would be great band names, so it's like announcing a substitution at a concert.

  3. Charles Gaulke said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 12:06 am

    Huh… My initial first-sight interpretation, before I even read the entry here, turned out to be correct (it does seem like the most plausible version, even in a vacuum). But, again before I actually read the post, I assumed I must be wrong and started trying to reanalyze it differently. It's so weird, somehow, that even though I understood it immediately I didn't think I actually had.

    I can't figure out what it actually is about this headline that's doing that to me, though. Although it is potentially ambiguous, I was already familiar with the phrase "room amnesia" and once you've got that it's perfectly straight forward. None of the alternate interpretations really make any sense. It isn't a noun-pileup, and there's no garden path here… What's throwing me off?

  4. Helena Constantine said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 12:18 am

    Before the cut I was completely at a loss, like Lisa Simpson when she saw a marquee saying Yahoo Serious Young Einstein: "I know all those words, but I don't know what they mean."

    As it happens I didn't look behind the cut until after I wrote some e-mail, but when I did, I immediately understood them. Perhaps because I read the explanation under the head line before I was consciously aware of it?

  5. fs said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 12:45 am

    I've recently learned about the Bakery Algorithm (a protocol to coordinate multiple processes analogous to taking a number at the bakery or del), a section of which is called the 'Doorway section.' So I parsed this as <doorway to > as if were the name of one algorithmic entity.

  6. Simon Wright said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 4:47 am

    I think it’d have been less confusing if the headline had been “Doorways to blame …”. The singular “doorway” seems to imply a specific doorway.

  7. Toby said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 5:21 am

    As always with these things, mileage varies. I got the right interpretation right off the bat, and even now I can't make myself see the second interpretation (<<doorway to > amnesia>). Being British, and therefore from the land of ambiguously telescoped headlines, almost always seems to help with these.

  8. Faldone said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    So what do we blame if there are no doorways involved?

  9. Catanea said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 8:34 am

    Indeed. This phenomenon, christened "woking" by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd in "The Meaning of Liff", is well known at our house, but we have only the one, big room. There is no doorway between me, now, and the middle of the kitchen, where I so often end up woking. Even just turning from the table to the sink, or toward the fireplace, reaching up…I can't remember what I am reaching FOR.
    No doorway. So…what?

  10. Alacritas said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 9:12 am

    I got the right interpretation right off the bat, and thought it was kind of strange…but like Toby, it was somewhat difficult for me to get myself to see it as Mr. Sleigh's first interpretation. After a few seconds though, I was able to switch back and forth between the two. The correct one still seems the most intuitive, however.

  11. Sili said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    I heard about this study last week on the SGU's Science or Fiction, so I was primed to understand the headline. I guess that's much like English newspaper headlines; one has to know what they're on about.

  12. Ellen K. said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    My first reading of it was that "doorway to blame" is something that "Room Amnesia" is receiving, like a prize or a prison sentence.

    I read the post rather than trying to puzzle out what it actually means, though I think I got something close to the correct understanding while trying (and failing) to follow Paul Sleigh's first interpretation.

    His 2nd interpretation was particularly hard to parse because I was misreading his paraphrase. I read

    {the loss of memory about a wall entrance} leading to guilt regarding part of a house

    Only after looking at his bracketing of the headline did I realize he meant:

    the loss of memory about {a wall entrance leading to guilt regarding part of a house}

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    My first guess at the syntax turned out to be right, but I had no idea what it meant.

    "Doorway to Blame for Woking" would have been a great headline.

  14. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    Well, what caught my attention (on second reading, true), was the lead paragraph. Ever walk…? > You have. Is that normal in US English? (Or any variety, for that matter; I'm a non-native speaker.)

  15. Kenny said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    I also thought the subhead was more interesting than the title: "Ever walk into the kitchen and forgot why you went there? Of course you have." I don't find it to be normal English.

    "Walk" and "forgot" can't go together, and neither fits with "have". It's especially strange to me because even if someone used the wrong fragments, I would expect the fragments to match. It would be perfectly fine to ask "Ever walk into the kitchen and forget why…", since that is a mildly shorter version of "Do you ever walk into the kitchen and [then] forget why…". The present tense generally can't lead into perfect aspect in this way, so the best followup wold have been "Of course you do." The alternative, which would fit with "Of course you have.", is to ask "Ever walked into the kitchen and forgotten why…".

    The mismatch from the first sentence to the second doesn't seem to be an especially egregious one (though I thought it was quite odd.). In fact, if one does do those things, one must also have done them. I was wondering if the article was British and British English's perfect past participle for "forget" was "forgot" instead of "forgotten" (as is the case for "get" with "got" and "gotten"), but then I saw/remembered that this is Scientific American. If the writer's past participle of "forget" was "forgot", then the mistake was putting walk in the present, but after the and everything else matches. Are there names for these sorts of problems?

  16. Tim said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    Charles Gaulke : Is it possible that the headline wasn't throwing you off itself, but that this article was? Perhaps you read the headline and interpreted it correctly, but then your brain said "Well, that was far too easy to figure out. It must mean something less obvious, or why would there be a post on LL about it?".

  17. richard said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

    I like the idea of a Doorway to Blame award. I envision it as a three-dimensional version of the old Microsoft icon–they used it for a number of products, but I remember it particularly for an early version of Visual Basic–of a door left ajar. I'm not sure what the Doorway to Blame award should recognize, though.

  18. David Bloom said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    Something about this one seems especially amusing to me, but I don't know what: Pennsylvania GOP’s Budget Cuts Mean Police Response To 911 Calls Could Take Days

  19. Glenn Bingham said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    @Jarek Weckwerth:

    Couple of things going on here. English as a semi-pseudo-pro-drop language sometimes drops the subject pronoun in informal or semi-formal use. Since pronouns usually combine with associated auxiliaries or verbs, other information drops along with the pronoun. I actually read this opening sentence to myself beginning with the word "jyever" (Did you ever… > Didja ever… > jya ever… > jyever… All approximated in English orthography rather than IPA), so I didn't orally drop the beginning information.

    The problem is in the following question that should be parallel in construction. It should, at least in standard English, say "Of course, you did."

    For the first sentence to reflect the perfect displayed in the second, it would need to be "Have you ever walkED…" or less formally, "Vyever walked…" So the "have" or "did" are recoverable from the appearance or lack of the "-ed" on "walk" even if deleted as in the article.

    At best, seems that the level of formality has sunk quite low. And at worst, s'been abandoned, resulting in a squarely non-standard sequence.

  20. Chad said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 11:05 am

    @ Jarek Weckwerth: Yes; it's called a "rhetorical question" and I didn't realize that they were unique to English.

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