Fake degree claims dog

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Garden-path headline of the day — Stephen Burgen, "Fake degree claims dog prominent Spanish politicians", The Guardian 4/10/2018. By the usual rules of U.K. headlinese, it seem that the first four words should reference a dog that somehow played a key role in some fake degree claims. But no.

The obligatory screenshot:


  1. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 11:45 am

    Awww. It would be much more fun if a fake degree claimed (its rights to a) dog.

  2. Ross Presser said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 11:45 am

    My first read was "Fake degree" as subject, "claims" as verb, and "dog" as object … somehow a fraudulent academic credential was asserting ownership of a canine.

  3. cervantes said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 12:03 pm

    You basic garden path. Happens a lot in headlines.

  4. William Ockham said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

    I was hoping for a dog, joining with some prominent Spanish politicians, making a claim that a [specific and so easily recognizable that further identification is unnecessary] degree is fake. Although that interpretation might require a comma or two.

  5. John Shutt said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

    I'd thought "Fake degree claims dog" meant a fake degree had somehow resulted in the death of an animal, leading me to wonder if perhaps somebody was falsely claiming to be a qualified veterinarian. It also had such a strong hold on my imagination that it then took me several seconds to parse the full headline.

  6. Vance Maverick said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 12:26 pm

    I read a use of "dog" in this sense today that puzzles me slightly — it's an obvious extension of the usual metaphor, but somehow doesn't work for me.

    From Tara Golshan in Vox, "Why Paul Ryan is not running for reelection" (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/4/11/17223998/retire-paul-ryan-reelection-speaker):

    "Ryan has long been dogged for having an 'expansionist immigration agenda.'"

    I think the issue is that we don't use the construction to say that some one is being dogged by people — rather by claims, accusations, rumors, etc. "Ryan has been dogged by the epithet 'expansionist'."

  7. cervantes said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 12:50 pm

    Jan Valjean was dogged by Javert.

  8. Chandra said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 12:59 pm

    It sure throws a spaniel in the works

  9. quodlibet said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 1:13 pm

    @cervantes: "Jean Valjean was dogged by Javert."

  10. Adam said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 1:18 pm

    Interestingly, my first parse of this statement was that, somehow, a fake degree was claiming (i.e. stating) that multiple Spanish politicians were, in fact, actually one single dog.

  11. mistah charley, ph.d. said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    speaking of dogs, and of claims, i am reading Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut's book How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary scientists and a Siberian tale of jump-started evolution – i am enjoying it very much

    you can build a dog-like fox from a regular fox with just a few decades of selective breeding, it turns out

  12. mistah charley, ph.d. said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

    by the way – this headline reminds me of the famous proverb pair –

    time flies like an arrow
    fruit flies like a banana

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 2:26 pm

    I parsed this correctly and had to pause to figure out how others might parse it otherwise. But maybe my reactions are driven by US-style headlinese and might have been different had I been expecting a BrHeadlinese noun pile? "Dog" is an obvious headlinese-preferred verb because it's so short, and "fake degree claims" parses easily into a NP, given that "politician/public figure claims to have received university degree he/she allegedly did not actually receive" is a pretty standard subgenre of scandal.

  14. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 3:24 pm

    Why not just go whole "dog" with the snappy headlinese, and say something like, "CV fibs dog top Spanish pols"?

    I wish I could make it even shorter, but I'm afraid the only option would be to turn "Spanish" into a ethnic slur…

  15. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 4:47 pm

    J. W.: But in this case one of the politicians says he wasn't expected to go to class or take tests for his degree, according to the article. I understand the criticism but I didn't expect "fake degree" to mean that.

    I also don't understand why a university official resigned after allegations that her signature was forged on another politician's certificate.

  16. David Marjanović said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 5:10 pm

    Dinosaur discoveries wow Boston

    (Why interject when you can verb?)

  17. JPL said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 5:55 pm

    I think the newsworthy reality they were trying to note could have been better expressed by: "Fake degree claims dog elected Spanish politicians".

  18. chris said,

    April 11, 2018 @ 8:52 pm

    "Dog" is an obvious headlinese-preferred verb because it's so short
    But anywhere outside a headline the noun is vastly more common, thus it has high crash-blossom potential. Which obviously doesn't stop the headline writers, but should it?

  19. RJC said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 12:30 am

    Oh, my first take on this was that various prominent Spanish politicians were secretly one dog [which was known for having made claims about [someone else's] fake degree]…

    Something like this? https://twitter.com/KestrelPi/status/791601056522334208

  20. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 2:02 am

    Re the high crash-blossom potential of the verb dog, see: "Trump demands dog 'Dreamers' deal" and "Deflation risks dog economy."

  21. Ginger Yellow said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 5:05 am

    Why not just go whole "dog" with the snappy headlinese, and say something like, "CV fibs dog top Spanish pols"?

    Too tabloidy for the Guardian. Maybe in the Sun, but they probably wouldn't run the story.

  22. Ursa Major said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 5:12 am

    I read the first four words as referring to a dog claiming a fake degree, and assumed it was something like the Sokal affair or F. D. C. Willard and that someone was exposing fraudulent academic practices. The last 3 words then just confused me.

    Anyway, the standfirst says the politicians gained Master degrees without doing any work. Since Oxford and Cambridge also give Masters without requiring any work pretty much the whole British political and journalism establishment have fake degrees.

  23. Rodger C said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 6:59 am

    @Vulcan: "CV fibs dog top Spain pols."

  24. Ellen K. said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 10:28 am

    So there's both the risk the reader will make the initial noun phrase too short, reading "claims" as a verb, and the risk that the reader will make it too long, reading "claims" and "dog" both as nouns and the first four words as a noun pile.

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 11:52 am

    @Jerry Friedman: If "fake degree" is a bad or inaccurate summary (allowing for the level of precision we do or don't expect from headlines) of the actual underlying story here, that isn't a problem caused by choosing one possible parsing of the headline-as-published over another, and thus isn't a problem caused by having run a headline susceptible of multiple readings. That's akin to reading the underlying story and concluding that "politicians" is not the right description for the personages involved in the controversy.

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

    To amplify that last point and combine with Ellen K.'s point, it seems like the key ambiguity in parsing here is whether the opening noun phrase is (fake degree) or ((fake degree) claims) or (((fake degree) claims) dog).* All of those rival parses concur that "fake degree" is a coherent syntactic unit or subunit. Unless there's a an alternative noun-pile with the different internal structure (fake (decree claims dog)), which would presumably contrast with an authentic or legitimate "degree claims dog," whatever that might be?

    * I will admit that for the last of these options I don't quite know what you do syntactically with the remaining three words — maybe the whole thing would be a seven-word noun pile?

  27. Peter Taylor said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

    Just be grateful that the Guardian waited until Pablo Casado was also caught up in the scandal: with a singular politician at the end there are even more possible readings.

    @Ursa Major, the difference is that the Oxbridge status degree doesn't claim to be anything other than a status degree, whereas Cifuentes and Casado's degrees are supposed to require work. The current state of allegations is that Casado was excused most of the work, whereas in the case of Cifuentes various signatures were forged to falsely certify that she had done it.

  28. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 11:18 pm

    J. W. Brewer: I was just pointing out that for one of the politicians, "fake degree" didn't mean what you and I expected it to mean. I see I shouldn't have written "But". Maybe "By the way".

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