Brit noun pile head hoard win

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Emma Little, "Fish foot spa virus bombshell", The Sun, 10/18/2011.

[h/t John Coleman]

For more crunchy British headline noun pile goodness, see e.g. "Coin change 'skin problem fear' hed noun pile puzzle", 4/21/2012; "Lightning strike crash blossom", 20/27/2011; "Eight word BBC headline noun pile construction", 5/31/2011; "BBC Brit head noun pile win", 5/18/2011; "Headline noun pile length contest entry", 4/18/2010; "Brit noun pile heds quizzed", 3/5/2009.


  1. Sean O said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    I have the impression that British news organizations consciously work at producing these linguistic traffic jams – RSS feeds from British media regularly display similar pileups.

  2. markonsea said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 10:57 am

    They've come upon a fish foot spa virus bombshell, so they used it as a headline. Is there a problem?

    More people should be British!

  3. Meagen said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    I suppose if you've never heard of "fish pedicure" you might not immediately parse "fish foot spa" as a single unit, but they even provided a helpful (and slightly gross) illustrative photo.

  4. Ginger Yellow said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 11:10 am

    Obviously, as discussed here many times, there are many reasons that British news sources continue to use/tolerate/favour noun piles, but I wonder if the reason it's second nature stems from the (mostly tabloid?) practice of tell-don't-show headline writing. In other words, British tabloid headlines have a tendency to need to say that the story they're describing is important somehow ("bombshell", "scandal", "shocker" etc), certainly in comparison with the US press and to a certain degree the UK broadsheets. In turn, I wonder how much of that tendency stems from the old practice of hawking newspapers from stands in the street. Back when it was a paid newspaper, the Evening Standard was notorious (maybe that's a bit strong) for the deliberately ambiguous headlines on its stands – eg "X trial result" – in order to get people to buy the paper to find out the actual story. I wouldn't be surprised if, culturally at least, the noun pile tendency stems from that commercial imperative to express that a story is important without revealing enough of the story that there's no need to read it.

  5. Mr Punch said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    Perfectly clear to this Yank.Wouldn't have read more, either.

  6. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

    Another entry in the noun-pile competition: China Ferrari sex orgy death crash. Not the longest so far, but I think it does win for having the most Google-optimised selection of terms.

  7. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    Ginger Yellow,

    I concur w/ your viewpoints re/ the practice of old-school street hawking of daily newspapers w/ the vendor shouting out flurries of provocative, or ear-catching words to lure in paying customers, plus your observation re/ the Brit tabloid press, for ages, using short, pithy, 'noun jammed', hyperbole-infused story headlines, as valid strategic precedents for the continued use and "tolerance" of these quirky 'headers' in wider U.K media circles.

    (Actually, I do recall even some 40 years ago, that our most popular morning tabloid 'rag', "The Sun", back in my hometown of Toronto, was fond of relying on titillating noun pile headlines; which often took a while to get to, mind you, since for most male 'Sun' readers, the Sports section (hockey obsession), and ogling the skimpily-clad, fetching "Sunshine Girl"* of-the-day photo spread, took precedence.)

    I believe the "noun pile" can be a bit of a two-edged sword, in that some readers may be immediately dazed and confused on their initial glance, and proceed, in frustration, to merely blow off reading the rest of the piece; whilst, others might have their curiosities piqued right off, are admittedly somewhat baffled by the fuzzy meaning, but continue to forge on, hoping to get to the gist of the story. (In the latter case, the "noun pile" serves the newspaper as a kind of 'teaser' mechanism, employed to hook the reader into reading the particular article.)

    *The Toronto Sun, to be fair, also ran a 'pic', on occasion, of a local, slightly beef-cakey guy, namely their "Sunshine Boy"; which here again, may have drawn a fair share of male-reader attention, but likely not the same male readership who would fantasized about hooking-up w/ the perky "Sunshine Girl"….. if you get my drift. It's ALL good, folks.

    @Dan von Brighoff

    Your "China Ferrari sex orgy death crash" example is definitely a confusing hodgepodge jumble of seemingly unrelated nouns, but it's, nonetheless, thought-provoking; containing enough 'sexy', or emotionally-charged words to warrant reading on.

    Prior to actually getting into 'the meat' (sorry) of the story, the mind might reel, trying to conjure up what orgiastic debaucheries may have been afoot, and if, somehow, any of these alleged sexcapades that apparently tragically led to the fatal 'climax', actually took place IN the car,. (Oh behave!)

    What's that old cautionary reminder about "always keep both hands on the steering wheel" while driving?

  8. irene said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 6:16 am

    I call this a noun sandwich.

  9. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 11:03 am


    I like your "noun sandwich" bit.

    A 'noun kebob' might work, too, no?

    A real doozy of a 'noun pile' could be a 'Dogwood Bumstead Special', retaining the notion of your sandwich configuration. (I guess I'm dating myself here? I am an early 'boomer'.)

  10. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    "Noun kebab" works better for me in American English (where it conjures up an image of nouns shoved up against each other like chunks of meat on a skewer) than in British English (where it suggests a dogpile of meaty strips doused in opaque sauce).

  11. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 3:14 pm


    I agree, I'm kind of leaning toward "noun kebab', as well.

    I view the typical sandwich (hate those confounded chi chi 'wraps') as an essentially vertical stack of various selected ingredients situated smack between bread slices, whilst the orientation of your usual skewered kebab is horizontal, more in keeping w/ how we English speakers are obliged to read sentences. (Admittedly, a picky point, but what the hey.)

    Note that I spelled "kebab" in err, earlier, w/ an "o" sandwiched between the two "b"s. (my bab…. Oops! Sorry…. my bad.)

    Daniel, sounds like the Brit version of the traditional grilled Middle-Eastern kebab has been bastardized into a kind of sad, gloppy, amorphous mass of smothered mystery meat that just happens to be served on a stick. (Ugh!)

    And here I thought these new, exotic emigré cultures coming to the U.K. would have enlivened the traditionally moribund, and much maligned British palate*. Sadly, many of these enterprising newcomers are likely adjusting their authentic homestyle recipes to jibe w/ what they perceive as the average native Brits' taste in food, and thus deviate from their standard cuisine, accordingly.

    Much like as I recall in the U.S. and Canada back in the '50s and early '60s when I was growing up in Toronto, we were pretty much convinced that authentic Chinese sweet-and-sour-pork should come smothered in that viscous, ruby-red, ketchupy, sweet sauce, and those deep-fried, crispy oil-drenched egg-rolls had to be the next best thing to sliced bread. (Closest thing to bread in a Chinese eatery are dumplings—-generally red bean, or pork-filled)

    Those early North American/ Chinese restauranteurs weren't born yesterday, and quickly adapted to our 'occidental' tastes in food—- upping the sugar, salt, butter, and SMG ante, exponentially, as their non-Chinese customers ate their 'Westernized' fare w/ gusto. But I digress.

    *Actually, I'm being a tad unfair to the majority of purveyors of so-called 'foreign' cuisine in Britain. I've heard that generally speaking, the infusion of these more exotic,
    savory dishes into the British culinary 'arena' over the past twenty years, or so, has represented a real positive turn for regular Brits, and newcomers alike.

    Those aforementioned sloppy, quasi-kebabs are likely cheap, and sold from fast-food street vending carts; so one kind of gets what one pays for. (A a tummy ache, to boot. HA!)

  12. Ginger Yellow said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

    Daniel, sounds like the Brit version of the traditional grilled Middle-Eastern kebab has been bastardized into a kind of sad, gloppy, amorphous mass of smothered mystery meat that just happens to be served on a stick. (Ugh!)

    It's not even served on a stick, usually. Your stereotypical "kebab" in Britain, as served from the omnipresent kebab van, is a doner kebab, in other words more or less what I think Americans (and Greeks) would call a gyro. If you want chunks of meat on a stick you need to ask for a shish kebab, and it's much less commonly ordered (from a kebab van, anyway – they're staples on Turkish and Indian restaurant menus).

  13. Ken Brown said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

    Turkish-style food here in Britain is spelled the modern Turkish way because lots of our food shops are run by Turks. (If often Cypriot). At least in London.

  14. J. Goard said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

    "Kebab" in Korea (which also hilariously sounds like 'dog food' to those of us who don't quite have the aspirated/less aspirated consonant perception down perfectly) is also always a wrap, but usually in what I would describe as a (slightly stretchy) Mexican-style flour tortilla. These days, when I go to the big supermarkets that carry such things, it seems about 50/50 whether a worker knows this product as "tortilla" or "kebab bread".

  15. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    September 11, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

    Ginger Yellow,

    Thanks for that elaboration on the street-style Brit "kebab".

    To me it sounds like false advertising at worst, or a misnomer at best, if it's merely a pile of thinly sliced meat slathered w/ some kind of brownish gelatinous sauce, or gravy, w/ nary a wooden skewer in sight.

    But I guess over time, this is what the on-the-street-consumer kind of expects when he asks for a street van "kebab".

    Granted, "shish kebab", is the more conventional chunky-grilled- meat-on-a-skewer "kebab"(w/ perhaps some onions, peppers, or tomatoes staggered between the meat chunks), which Lebanese, Israeli, Turkish, and Persian restaurants have offered up as a menu staple for generations. (Beef/steak, chicken, and lamb seem to be the most common meat choices.)

    Ginger, here in the U.S. (and Canada), I haven't really seen any Indian restaurants offering shish kebabs on their menu. But I'm not doubting you. Perhaps in England it's different.

    Tandori chicken, which is baked in a specialized clay oven, is kind of in the same ballpark as a shish kebab morsel, but not cooked in the same manner.

    My experience w/ Indian meat dishes has been mainly w/ chunks of meat in various savory stews like say kormas, or curries.

    Bon appetite !

  16. Ginger Yellow said,

    September 12, 2012 @ 4:43 am

    Ginger, here in the U.S. (and Canada), I haven't really seen any Indian restaurants offering shish kebabs on their menu. But I'm not doubting you. Perhaps in England it's different.

    Tandori chicken, which is baked in a specialized clay oven, is kind of in the same ballpark as a shish kebab morsel, but not cooked in the same manner.

    Yeah, what I meant was that you'll get offered "kebabs", which usually comprise assorted tandoori meat chunks on a stick, rather than a gyro/shwarma style filled pita. Or tikka chunks. I wasn't intending to convey that it would be the exact same dish. I should note that "Indian" restaurants in the UK tend to actually be Bangladeshi.

  17. Ken Brown said,

    September 12, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

    Alex,if its false advertising, don't blame us, blame the Turks who invented it and coined the name about two centuries ago! And it *is* cooked on a skewer – just a very big one!

    [(myl) It's not clear to me that the move beyond the (small) skewer is originally or entirely due to the Turks. The OED gives the etymology of cabob as "< Arabic kabāb (also in Persian and Urdu), in same sense", and glosses it as "1. An oriental dish (see the quotations); also used in India for roast meat in general", though it's true that there's a quotation 1699   B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew,   Cabob, a Loin of Mutton Roasted with an Onyon betwixt each joint; a Turkish and Persian used in England. ]

  18. Tim J said,

    September 15, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

    I hope nobody ever takes the Sun as representative of British news organisations. It's a bit like taking Fox News as representative of US ones.

    It is however a habit that we make fun of here too.

    I think the newspapers do it partly to get the headlines as short as possible while also trying to cram too much in: the fewer the words, the bigger the type can be. It's noticeable that some quite unnatural words are used simply because they're short: for example, any investigation is a "probe", the police never "inverview" someone but always "quiz" them, and any attempt at anything is always a "bid", and so on. It's actually a whole vocabulary of its own.

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