Jail pants, Blame flies, Jets GM breaks down

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[Tip of the hat to Avi, Karl & Ron. ]


  1. Ellen K. said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 8:54 am

    I'm puzzled by the first one. What's the linguistic interest? I read it right (got the correct meaning) the first time, and the only ambiguity I can see (reading it as a jail panting) isn't particularly funny, nor does it seem likely for someone to misread it that way. Am I wrong about that, or am I missing something?

  2. Nick said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 9:07 am

    I read the first one as "The 'Jail Pants' have 'Public Results' in something called 'Arrest at Gunpoint'". By that point, it became too difficult to parse and so I read the text for context.

  3. Andrew Smith said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    I can't get the last one to parse at all. Can "frantic" be modifying "hours"? Or is it the object of "breaks down"??

    [(myl) Both. Translation: "Jets' General Manager gives a detailed account of the frantic hours that follow the deadline for NFL-wide roster cuts". The hours are frantic (in the sense of being full of frantic activity) because hundreds of players are released by their previous teams and become available to be picked up other teams who have less depth at the relevant positions. The management of NFL teams then must figure out which free players to go after, as quickly as possible because other teams are doing the same thing.]

  4. Nathan said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    Me, I'm puzzled about the third one. What's the crash blossom reading?

  5. L said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    The frantic hours after roster cuts were broken down by the Jets GM.

  6. Michael W said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    Seems to me the third one lies in 'breaks down frantic hours'. Initially I actually thought that some event had caused the General Manager to have a collapse due to the stress of roster cuts, and didn't get it. Then I realized that they likely interviewed him, and he provided an in-depth analysis of that time period.

    Those unfamiliar with sports teams might have trouble figuring out that the Jets GM is not some part of an airliner, but a football team in New York.

  7. James said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    Andrew Smith: 'Breaks down' is transitive, in the intended interpretation. The frantic hours (and presumably his activities therein) are what the Jets' GM breaks down. (He breaks them down for the press, in the sense of analyzing them, saying what goes on.)

    Nathan: the crash blossom reading has intransitive 'breaks down': a few (frantic) hours after the roster cuts, the GM has a break-down.

  8. James said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    Oh, myl explained as I was typing.

  9. L said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    Funny. I took that as the unintended meaning.

    I took the intended meaning as "Jets GM has emotional crisis after spending hours frantically responding to the stresses caused by required cuts to the [Jets] roster."

    This error may make more sense to fellow Jets fans.

  10. Michael W said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:18 am

    The sense of 'breaks down' was aided for me by realizing that 'breaks down frantic' is far too wordy for a headline. 'frantic hours' doesn't make sense. 'mere hours' maybe, but not collapsing until 'frantic hours' have passed won't work.

    But for well-placed quote marks, this one would have been a jumble of words:
    The wife swap beauty queen.

  11. Eric W said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    Like L, on first reading, I thought the GM cried after letting so many players go. I thought he must need a new job.

  12. Brett said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    I thought "Jets GM" must have something to do with airplanes and General Motors at first (but I'm probably atypically primed by the fact that my father in law worked for GE aircraft engines). Then I got the crash blossom meaning about having a nervous breakdown, which I assumed was the correct one until I read the comments.

  13. Graham Strong said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    To me, the most glaring error in the third one is that this story has absolutely nothing to do with the Winnipeg Jets…


  14. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    I got the intended meaning after a few readings of each, because the alternatives seemed less plausible. "You should blame the flies for massacre" did not seem plausible, because imperatives aren't used in headlines like that. Jet's manager "breaks down" [during] frantic hours was semi-plausible, but the missing preposition would be too weird. The 1st was the easiest to parse if you ignore singular verb for plural noun "pants."

  15. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    For Brits there's a secondary ambiguity, or misreading anyway, in the first one. Of course you'll get arrested for wearing just underwear in public, whether it's jail underwear or not.

  16. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 12:51 pm


    That "jail pants" number hit a little too close to home, for yours truly—-just a stone's throw from my humble abode here in the San Fernando Valley of L.A. (Well, maybe a few HEFTY stone-throws.)

    Hmm…. so even hardened ex-cons on the lamb shop at Wal-mart… and in pilfered jailhouse-issue dungarees, no less. (OK…. the guy just happened to be caught by the cops in the big-box-store parking lot….. just passin' thru, as it were. But for my take on what went down, it sounds better that he may have been a disgruntled customer. HA!)

    I guess "jail inmate jumpsuit pants", (the line that appears as the full description of the perp's sartorial 'situation' on his capture in the L.A. Sheriff Department's official press release), was a bit too much of a mouthful for a brief news 'header'?

    So going w/ "jail pants" was apparently the expedient solution.

    For me, the gist, or main point of the headline comes off as slightly ambiguous, in that one could interpret "jail pants" as a pair of animate, disembodied jailhouse-issue trousers, being cornered and then apprehended by law-enforcement; which could easily conjure up a bizzaro Monty Python-esque scenario*.

    Picture a quickly-summoned squad of L.A. Sheriffs Dept. officers surrounding these offending "jail pants" in the Wal-mart parking lot, guns drawn, w/ one cop reading the Miranda Rights to 'the pants', a phantom voice immediately responding from the droopy-drawers, demanding, "I ain't sayin' nuttin' till I gets me a $#%*& lawyer."

    Or perhaps, if the ex-con was indeed wearing said pants, the L.A. Sheriff's unit may have been working in tandem w/ the County 'fashion police', and were about to arrest and sequester this rogue "Recently Released Inmate" for making the up-scale Stevenson's Ranch appear totally déclassé, by wearing the tacky orange jailhouse-issue jumpsuit in public.

    Initially, the off-duty cop who initially confronted the perp in the orange garb, apparently mistook him for a Cal-trans public-works field worker, run amok. The ex-cons beady, shifty, close-set eyes set the officer straight. (Social determinism wins the day, every time, no?)

    Rumor has it that on the heels of this incident, Wal-mart is planning a whole new line of jailhouse jumpsuit-inspired, knock-off polyester/ cotton dungarees w/ the burgeoning senior 'boomer' market in mind, for their upcoming Fall season. A nostalgic throw back to the old mid-western farmer pants, and grease-monkey mechanic coveralls of yore. Can't wait….. NOT.

    Wal-mart is also toying w/ the idea of marketing the "Seinfeld"-inspired 'pirate puffy shirt'. Curiously, not merely as a Halloween costume item.

    I say, anything for that ungodly buck.

    Interestingly, in this morning's L.A. Times local news section (LATEXTRA), on p. AA3, the "jail pants" story ran w/ the headline:

    'He's caught by the seat of his pants.'

    Sub-head: 'Just-freed inmate is arrested after being spotted wearing jail garb'.

    *I always loved that scene in Woody Allen's "Sleeper" (Hmm…. or maybe it was "Take the Money and Run"), where his hapless character has stolen a disembodied nose-to-be-cloned resting on a stainless-steel lab-platter, and he's threatening to shoot the schnoz to smithereens if he doesn't get free passage out of the cloning facility. So preposterous, yet so darn hilarious at the same time.

  17. Brett said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

    @Jonathan Mayhew: I didn't read the nervous breakdown interpretation as missing a preposition. Instead, I saw "breaks down… hours after roster cuts" as a unit, with "frantic" as a modifier—not so much of "hours" but of the whole phrase. This would make it an unusual elevated style of prose for a headline, however (especially in the New York Post, which is known for somewhat idiosyncratic heds, although idiosyncratic in a very different way).

  18. Rubrick said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

    I love the idea of "blame flies", a species whose evolutionary niche is to feast, not on the victims of tragedy, but on its perpetrators.

  19. John Lawler said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    @ALEX MCCRAE: Afaik, "on the lamb" is not yet in the Eggcorn database.

  20. W. Kiernan said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

    @John Lawler: Isn't that how Odysseus escaped Polyphemus? "On," "under," pretty close.

  21. Terry Collmann said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

    The top headline is particularly confusing for British English readers, for whom "pants" are underwear.

  22. David Bird said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

    @John Lawler: "On the lamb" was mentioned briefly here: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/contribute/#comment-384, though without any guess at its semantics.

  23. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

    @John Lawler,

    Okay! Mea culpa.

    I've got 'eggcorn' all over my blushing mug.

    Clearly, the phrase should have read, "on the lam."

    But you have to admit, your objection was a bit of a 'sheep' shot?

    Truth be told, in Scottish Highland's days of yore, one could be thrown into the local gaol, or forced to do major religious penance in the nearest Presbyterian kirk, for being caught, "on the lamb", …. if you get my drift. (Oh, behave!)

    Apparently, back in the day, it got very, very lonely for many of those hardy, (and horny) Scots sheep herders grazing their flocks up in the rarefied climes of summer high-pasture…. and well….. one thing just led to another.*

    Now, what Odysseus, Polyphemus, and those Grecian sheep were up to, I have nary a clue.

    The Trojan horse….. we're pretty much up to speed, there. But I digress.

    *Apologies to Dolly, the first-ever cloned sheep, who just happened to have a pleasant Scottish brogue, as I recall.

    Baaaaaaaaaaaa… hoot maaaaaaaa-n!

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 31, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    Prof. Lawler: not a particularly new turn of phrase – the Blue Öyster Cult song titled "I'm On the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep" was released on their debut album in 1972 and had apparently been in the repertoire of a predecessor version of the band at least as early as 1969.

  25. Peter Taylor said,

    September 1, 2012 @ 4:02 am

    "Jail pants in public results in…" is an interesting agreement. Is it a simple typo, or are we supposed to read the elided "Wearing" to get a singular noun?

  26. Ellen K. said,

    September 1, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    @Peter Taylor. More or less the 2nd, I would think. Though I don't so much think of it as an elided word but simply that it's the idea invoked by the phrase "jail pants in public" being the subject, rather than the headnoun of the phrase being the subject.

    But, however one explains it, I think it's better with "results" rather than "result". "Result" would imply more than one person being involved.

    So, I suppose you could say an implied "incident (of..)" is the subject.

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