Media train fire

« previous post | next post »

Kazunori Takada and Samuel Shen, "China media train fire on U.S. food giants over chicken scare", Chicago Tribune 1/17/2013:

SHANGHAI, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Just weeks after Chinese authorities cleared Yum Brands Inc and McDonald's Corp of charges they had served chicken laced with excessive chemicals, local media are again attacking the iconic American firms, while barely reporting on the chances of Chinese restaurants selling similar meat.

Kevin Zurawel writes:

I assumed at first that this was a catastrophic fire taking place on a train filled with Chinese journalists and TV stars, but then realized it was just about bad chicken.

Obligatory screen shot:


  1. Nathan said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    The phrase "train fire on" does exist in my passive vocabulary, but I think it's really weird outside a specific type of military literature. Is this the sort of thing that comes from poorly-written bilingual dictionaries?

  2. Marcos said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 11:09 am

    @Nathan: I am guessing the writers of the Chicago Tribune do not use bilingual dictionaries to write their articles in English.

  3. Daniel said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    I read this at first as (Chinese media train) (fire on) (U.S. food giants).

    That is, the Chinese media train, a weird collective appelation of Chinese media, with 'train' in the sense of 'in his train there followed many [media]'; fired on the U.S. food giants due to the chicken scare. (This latter presumably being of the 'sky is falling variety'.)

  4. ajay said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    I am guessing the writers of the Chicago Tribune do not use bilingual dictionaries to write their articles in English.

    The article isn't written by writers from the Chicago Tribune. It's written by a couple of Reuters journalists. And given that they are living in Shanghai and their names are Shen and Takada, I'd say there's a fighting chance that some sort of bilingual dictionary may have been involved…

  5. Brian said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    I've started to notice that a lot of crash blossoms are tying a current event to some previous, noteworthy (and presumably lucrative) event. I think this is part of the allure that leads headline writers to crashing: the desire to squeeze in an extra top-level concept. Plus of course, if the previous event was noteworthy enough (and recent enough), there is probably some short-hand way to invoke it in just a couple of words, leading to still more density in the headline.

  6. Joshua T said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    I wonder if some level of confusion arises from the plural 'media', as well. If it were treated as a singular, we get "China media trains fire on U.S. food giants…". Is that less prone to misinterpretation?

  7. Craig said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    Ajay–The Chicago Tribune should have its own headline writers working here in the states, ignoring of course your offensive implication that the writers are either not fluent in English or just lazily translating someone else's story.

  8. Ellen K. said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    Okay, what does "train fire on" mean?

  9. Plane said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

    @Ellen K.

    I believe it means "to aim at [with a gun]", used metaphorically in the same way as "set their sights on".

    I think it's sense 10.a. in the OED's definition for train, though they don't give that particular collocation: "To direct, point, or aim (a cannon or other fire-arm, or transf. a photographic camera); to bring by horizontal movement to bear (on, upon, the thing aimed at)."

  10. Brett said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    @Ellen K., Plane: I would say that "train fire on" with a real weapon indicates that the weapon is not merely aimed, but actually fired (and probably multiple times, as implied by the use of the mass noun "fire"). When used metaphorically, I would similarly interpret "train fire on" as indicating a targeted and sustained attack of some sort, not merely preparatory aiming or an opening salvo.

  11. Seonachan said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

    @Brian, I had a similar thought when I ran across this headline at "Cremation Service Claims 18 Human Heads Found At O’Hare Airport" – I was unaware of the previously reported fact that the 18 heads had been found, and so I initially thought that the cremation service was merely asserting that they were found, not that they were staking a claim to them.

    There does seem to be an assumed common knowledge factor to these headlines.

  12. Nathan said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

    Marcos and Craig, it's a Reuters story with a Reuters headline–you can find it at as well. The Chicago Tribune didn't write the story or the headline. I guess my "bilingual dictionary" question was elliptical; I was assuming everyone knew it was written in English in China, and also assuming that the writers' first language was not English. Maybe some dictionary (erroneously) says that "train fire on" is a good English translation of some idiom.

  13. Brett said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

    @Seonachan: That hed about heads didn't confuse me, although it certainly describes a difficult-to-fathom situation. I suppose it worked because I'm used to seeing references to people in the undertaking business "claiming" bodies.

  14. Ross Presser said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

    Oh my, it's an ANTI-noun pile — we expect the noun piles in headlines now, so when it's actually a grammatical sentence we get confused.

  15. Dave K said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

    The headline writers are probably kicking themselves for not saving a few letters and making a lot more sense by saying "take aim at".

  16. Garrett Wollman said,

    January 18, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

    It's all about the SEO. I'm sure that the Trib's copyedfitors would rewrite the hed if that story ended up in the print edition.

  17. Circe said,

    January 19, 2013 @ 12:58 pm


    ignoring of course your offensive implication that the writers are either not fluent in English or just lazily translating someone else's story.

    I wonder how you got to the conclusion that use of a bilingual dictionary implies the authors were "just lazily translating someone else's story". As a non-native speaker of English (and native speaker of Hindi), I can tell you that I often find myself in a situation where I know just the "right" idiom for a situation in one of the two languages, but can't think of a suitable replacement in the other, and I would expect that other bilinguals find themselves in similar situations too. Bilingual dictionaries come very handy in such situations, and their use has nothing to do with fluency, laziness or a latent propensity for plagiarism.

  18. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    February 9, 2013 @ 9:20 am

    About the possible translation–since the article's authors are named Takada and Shen, it seems likely their common language was English. Either way, it was probably a Reuters editor who wrote the headline itself.

RSS feed for comments on this post