Syntax puzzle of the day

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A headline sent in by Yoram Meroz: "Congressman Florida Man hired former Trump staffer fired after hanging around white nationalists", Daily Kos 4/19/2019.

Yoram wrote "Here's a headline I could probably decipher, but I haven't tried."

I tried and failed — I leave it to our clever commenters to solve the mystery.

The references are easy to understand, from the body of the story and extensive other coverage — the "Florida Man" is Matt Gaetz, and the "former Trump staffer" is Darren Beattie.

Oh, I see. Gaetz is being described as "Congressman Florida Man", pushing the Florida Man Meme one syntactic step too far. (See "Location Man", 12/31/2014, for examples and discussion.)

Anyhow, here's the Obligatory Screenshot:



  1. Vicki Rosenzweig said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 7:09 am

    My guess, without looking at the article, would be either that "Congressman" there is headline-talk for "A Congressman said this" or that it should be "Florida Congressman hired former Trump staffer [who had been] fired after hanging around white nationalists" and that someone is so used to seeing "Florida Man" that they dropped it in there by mistake.

  2. Sneedop Bcorian said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 7:25 am

    Without clicking through to the article, I'd parse it as:
    "[The] Congressman [who a] Florida Man hired [is a] former Trump staffer [who was] fired after hanging around white nationalists"

  3. Adam Field said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 7:37 am

    I parsed it pretty easily – the same way as Vicki's second one. I'm super used to seeing "Florida Man", as in "Florida Man Walks out of Store with 12 Boxes of Golf Balls in His Pants", "Naked Florida Man Breaks into Concession Stand to Steal Hotdogs", "Machete-Wielding Florida Man Blocks Traffic, Hits Car", "Florida Man Threatens to Destroy Everyone with his Army of Turtles", "Florida Man Mayor Smokes Crack, Eats Meth, Practices Medicine Without License, Fires on SWAT Team", "Florida Man Driving Around with Pants down Says He Was Just Working out"… so I parsed it pretty easily as "a Florida Man [yes this is always capitalized, it's not just a man from Florida, he's a Florida Man] and Congressperson, hired a former Trump staffer who was fired for hanging around with white nationalists."

  4. Robert Coren said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 9:38 am

    I guess Adam's and Vicki's [second] interpretation make sense — I couldn't figure it out at all.

    Vicki's first guess would surely require a colon after "Congressman".

  5. DaveK said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 10:19 am

    I had the same interpretation as Sneedop and Adam Field. The Congressman is being disparagingly nicknames Florida Man for doing something stupid, in this case, hiring a staffer Trump fired for when it was revealed the staffer was associating with white nationalists

  6. Gregory Kusnick said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 10:20 am

    Here's a Wonkette piece from a couple of months ago in which Gaetz is explicitly referred to as "Congressman Florida Man", so apparently this is a thing.

  7. Andrew Usher said,

    April 20, 2019 @ 11:32 am

    Train-wreck headline, but given that 'Florida Man' (given the caps) must be a nickname for the congressman, it means he hired the 'Trump staffer' that was fired for allegedly associating with 'white nationalists'. Note that the order of the two events is not specified, even though it is important to the story; they are about equally plausible.

    It seems that 'Congressman Florida Man' was invented by this writer; but if you want to attack a guy's character or intelligence, I'd suggest doing it in a way that won't confuse the hell out of your audience.

    k_over_hbarc at

  8. JPL said,

    April 21, 2019 @ 5:43 am

    I'm not in the mood, but as usual I prefer the alternative world in which the famous Florida Man hired Congressman Matt Gaetz, and that was OK until one day Florida Man's boss, a former Trump staffer, was hanging around some white nationalists, and then he, in extreme anger, fired Matt Gaetz, presumably when he realized that he was too idiotic even for the white nationalists. You may think that headline is clearly referring to that story on the Google news site, but I think it's actually referring to this other incident in the alternative world.

  9. rosie said,

    April 22, 2019 @ 10:04 am

    Gosh, and Americans think British newspaper headlines are hard to parse! "Congressman Florida Man" already presents difficulties. Like Adam Field, I'm used to seeing "[place] [person]" in headlines to denote a person — but it would only ever be used for a person the paper's editor wouldn't expect readers to already know of, not for anyone involved in national politics. But "Congressman Florida Man" doesn't parse as a single noun-phrase for me, because I didn't get the "Florida Man" reference.

  10. Daniel Barkalow said,

    April 22, 2019 @ 11:14 pm

    For me this doesn't work because "Congressman X" is only used when X is the person's name, and never a description or other title. Congressman Rice wouldn't be expected to have anything to do with rice, nor would Congressman Don Bacon have anything to do with wearing bacon. So Congressman Florida Man could be expected to be a perfectly mundane congressman with a very odd name.

    I'd write what this columnist wants to say as "Congressional Florida Man" or maybe "Florida Man Congressman". These fit the pattern of "Congressional Democrat" or "Republican Congressman", and just leave the reader to understand what "Florida Man" means as an idiomatic descriptor.

  11. Michael Watts said,

    April 23, 2019 @ 1:17 am

    Daniel Barkalow: I don't think the columnist wants to say "Florida Congressman" (which would be the standard way to refer to an unnamed representative from Florida). I think, as other commenters upthread have said, that "Florida Man" is being used as a term of abuse which substitutes for his name. It's not meant to be a compositional description. ("Florida Man" is a moderately-well-known cliché phrase originating in the many Florida newspaper headlines describing something "Florida Man" did [and the custom of reporting on Florida Man in turn derives from Florida's unusually open access to court records, as I understand].)

    So the meaning is not "the Congressman from Florida", it's "the Congressman who's an idiot", he who exemplifies the legendary actions of Florida Man.

  12. Jeff said,

    April 25, 2019 @ 11:50 am

    If you allow Florida Man to be the name of the congressman, it parses easily. "Florida Man" is a common meme that has been around for many years. It must be a nickname for this particular person (I wouldn't know). Also note that "Man" is capitalized, unlike other common nouns in the headline, thereby strengthening the case.

    Otherwise it is a typo, in which case we're not mind readers, so who knows.

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    April 25, 2019 @ 7:08 pm

    As I stated, the headline still doesn't give the relative order of the hiring and firing, though the article makes that clear. Also, while the capitalisation of 'Man' does help get the meaning here, I wonder why it is conventional at all.

    In the prototypical headline form, 'Florida Man' is not a proper noun, and so you'd expect 'Florida man' – headlines don't _usually_ get title-cased, if my memory isn't completely faulty.

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