Noun pile for the ages

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…submitted by Jesse Sheidlower: "China Ferrari sex orgy death crash".


  1. dw said,

    January 14, 2013 @ 11:40 pm

    I'm glad it wasn't a Platonic orgy.

  2. Peter Nelson said,

    January 14, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

    I know it's a ridiculous headline… but isn't it exactly what it sounds like? Maybe it's lost on me because I know the news story in question.

  3. Daniel said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 12:11 am

    At some point the nouns stop reading like modifiers of one another and end up just being a list of the important elements in the story: "China. Ferrari. Sex orgy. Death. Crash."

    This may be an interesting thing to explore: do these headlines improve in readability when you stop trying to read them as a sentence but rather as a list?

  4. MrFnortner said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 12:32 am

    China Ferrari was a great singer and a rising star. I hated to see her go out like this. The good always die young.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 12:44 am

    This is a relatively old meme, with thousands of ghits on the whole headline in quotes. There's even a performance of it by Toxic Threat: (click on the play arrow at the top of the page)

    The incident which led to this epic noun pile headline took place in March, 2012 and involved the son of a prominent Chinese politician:

    Because the father, Ling Jihua, refused to admit that the dead body he was shown in the morgue was his son's and there was a massive government coverup that lasted for months, the famous noun pile headline did not actually occur until September 5, 2012 (in the Metro Herald):

    Once the true identity of the deceased driver was revealed, plus the fact that the two girls who were with him in the car at the time of the crash were Tibetans with high Party and Buddhist establishment pedigrees, the crash took on huge importance in the lead-up to the political transition that took place in November at the 18th National Party Congress.

    Inasmuch as I have known about this story inside out since September, I was intimately familiar with each element of the headline, and so — although it sounded rather odd — I wasn't the least bit slowed down by the clumsy grammatical construction.

  6. neminem said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 1:11 am

    I came here to post basically the same thing MrFnortner just said, only in the form of an observation I found interesting: that just about *any* three consecutive words in that "sentence" would make a great name for a rock band. It would indeed appear that any two consecutive words in the sentence would make a decent band name too.

  7. Brian said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 1:12 am

    Peter Nelson: I was not familiar with the news story in question and I can say that, to me, it didn't really sound like much of anything. "Death crash"? What the hell is that? If you just want to clarify that the driver didn't survive the crash, then write "fatal crash". "Death crash" sounds like it must mean something else. And why is "Ferrari" way over on the opposite end from "crash"? It's like they want to be misunderstood.

    Had I been forced to make a bet before I read the article, I would have seriously considered the possibility that it was about someone named China Ferrari.

  8. Richard said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 1:54 am

    The Chinese are copying Ferraris now? Big step up from fake Rolexes.

  9. richardelguru said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    MrFnortner, my first thought was that Ferrari had started making ceramic cars: not a good thing to be in if you crash (with or without the orgy).

  10. Polyspaston said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 7:31 am

    Why was the Ferrari made out of china? Surely that's just asking for trouble.

  11. John Shutt said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 7:47 am

    @dw: From what I can tell of the etymology (with my limited resources here), "sex orgy" seems not to be a retronym, because the word "orgy" has always had other senses associated with it; the ancient Greek term appears to have meant "secret rite".

  12. MattF said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 7:52 am

    I guess the missing verb expresses some concept that Anglo-Saxons don't have a word for.

  13. Alex Blaze said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    Having worked in the biz, I'm 99% certain that this headline was created for Google's eyes. All the filler of language is gone (articles and auxiliary verbs and pronouns and silly things like that) and google-loved words are added for no reason (sex and death, but especially sex).

    How it ended up in the print edition is unknown, but there was some headline writer somewhere who had this to embed in a url or in metadata or tags. And these words were probably going to be made readable-by-humans before being put into the headline (the headline is the most important part for Google).

    And before you criticize this practice: Google's algorithm is pretty democratic and editors know what they're doing to get clicks. They're just giving the people what they want to see.

  14. George said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    Careful there, MattF. It's a Dublin paper and if there's one thing we don't like it's being called Anglo-Saxons :)

  15. MattF said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    My apologies. I didn't notice the 'Keep Dublin Tidy' geographic clue at the bottom of the image.

  16. johnesh said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 9:18 am

    I always think of these "noun pile" headlines as a quintessentially British thing, but clearly the Irish do it too! These sorts of headlines far pre-date Google, though. They are the ultimate pared-down, eye-grabbing tabloid headline, which every headline writer strives for. They often end with the words "slur", "fury" or "shame". The pool of nouns to be chosen from is really rather small.
    I was not familiar with this story but, being a Brit, and being used to these sorts of things, I had no trouble whatsoever in parsing the intended meaning on first reading.

  17. Peter said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 10:02 am

    @dw, @John Shutt: In an ordinary sentence, sex orgy might well be unnecessarily redundant. But in a noun pile it’s rather less so, since orgy is easily modified by preceding nouns, and so e.g. China Ferrari orgy death crash pushes one rather too much towards a reading involving a Ferrari orgy, and resultant confusion.

  18. Theodore said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 10:27 am

    I'm pretty sure a "China Ferrari" is something you keep coins in, like a "China Pig".

  19. Brett said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 11:06 am

    @Peter: Now I can't rid myself of the idea of a Ferrari orgy.

  20. Dw said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    @John Shutt, @Peter: Yeah, and "China" could mean "porcelain".

    There's only one non-sexual sense in which I ever see "orgy" in the newspapers; that is in phrases such as "orgy of destruction", in which its use is obviously metaphorical. Are you seriously suggesting that the headline "China Ferrari orgy death crash" would have left you uncertain as to whether sex was involved?

  21. zedn said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

    The orgy is sexual either way, but it's a little bit clearer in this version that a bunch of Ferarris (or China Ferarris, as the case may be) aren't having the orgy.

  22. John Shutt said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

    @Brett, @Peter: There's the classic "One witness told the commissioners that she had seen sexual intercourse taking place between two parked cars in from of her house." (The Press, Atlantic City, 14 June 1979, cited in "Squad helps dog bite victim")

    @dw: Actually, yes, "China Ferrari orgy" does sound peculiar enough that I'd do a double-take on it. I'd probably laugh at it, too; it comes out that peculiar.

  23. John Shutt said,

    January 15, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

    @dw: Not to give your point short shrift: In my experience, "an orgy of x" is a pretty standard construction that can be used for more-or-less arbitrary x. It's less common to encounter it in the form "x orgy", but then, that's the nature of the noun pile tactic.

  24. mollymooly said,

    January 16, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    @Peter Nelson:

    isn't it exactly what it sounds like?

    Irrelevant. A noun pile is not necessarily a crash blossom.

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