Argus Noun Pile Head Collection Notice

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Joe Manfre writes:

I was looking through a Flickr group celebrating the always sensationalist headlines for the Argus newspaper in Brighton and Hove,  and in it I found a few pretty good noun piles:

FIREWORKS BLAZE BOSS VERDICT
HOVE GARDEN POND CLASH – PICTURE
BLAZE DEATH MURDER QUIZ
DOG KNIFE KILLING VERDICT
BRIGHTON COCKROACH CURRY HOUSE FINE
BRIGHTON PHOTO STUDIO JOBS MISERY

We can add:

SURF GIRLS' BEACH BATTLE
WORTHING RUNAWAY ELECTRIC BUGGY CHAOS

(though "electric" is an adjective, really), and

RUBBISH ROW RESIDENTS IN VILE CARDS SHOCK

(though that is two three-element noun piles connected with a preposition).

Some previous LL coverage of British noun pile headline culture:

"Brit noun pile heds quizzed", 3/5/2009
"Headline noun pile length contest entry", 4/18/2010
"Eight word BBC headline noun pile construction", 5/31/2011
"BBC Brit head noun pile win", 5/18/2011
"Lightning strike crash blossom", 10/27/2011
"Coin change 'skin problem fear' hed noun pile puzzle", 4/21/2012
"Brit noun pile head hoard win", 9/10/2012

As I noted in one of those posts,

So this is a sociological puzzle, a linguistic puzzle, and a historical one.  Is there really a systematic difference between British and U.S. headline culture? Is the difference purely quantitative (more frequent noun compounds) and lexical (particular phrases like "death crash"), or are there constructional ("X row Y" to mean "the Y involved in a scandal over X") and syntactic differences? And when and why did all this start?  (The London broadsheets in 1774 didn't run headlines like "Tea tax row governor replaced".)

And in another,

Has anyone previously noted the syntactico-semantic similarity between British Headline English and classical Chinese poetry?

 



23 Comments

  1. Dick Margulis said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    When did vile become a noun?

    [(myl)
    c1400   Song of Roland 76   They synnyd so sore in þat ylk while that many men wept and cursid þat vile.

    Seriously, I have no idea what a "vile cards shock" is, so for all I know (the) Vile is a reference to the band.]

  2. Steve Kass said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 7:50 am

    Yesterday at news.com.au, Obama kill plot pair arrested over plans to use giant death ray on President.

  3. Richard Wein said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    "SURF GIRLS' BEACH BATTLE"

    I think possessives should be banned from noun piles. They don't seem to be in the right spirit. Just leave out the apostrophe here.

  4. NW said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 8:55 am

    Wot, no Obama giant death ray plot pair? What a wasted opportunity.

  5. Corey B said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    3 thoughts:

    1) I would really love to see the picture of the two garden ponds clashing.

    2) How did the dog hold the knife?

    3) Thank goodness the cockroach curry house is fine! I was worried about it.

  6. Rodger C said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    Shouldn't that be "Brighton curry house cockroach fine"?

  7. Chris Waters said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

    While we're on the subject, we shouldn't forget one of the greatest noun pile-ups of all time: the famous tweetle beetle bottle puddle paddle battle muddle.

    Perhaps the Fox in Socks has gotten a job working for the British press?

  8. boynamedsue said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    @rodger c

    As a near native speaker of British Headline English, I can confirm that "Brighton cockroach curry house fine" is perfectly correct, although has a slightly different meaning to "Brighton curry house cockroach fine".

    The first translates into English as:

    The Brighton Curry House where a cockroach (or cockroaches) were found, has been fined.

    The second is:

    A Brighton Curry house has been fined for having cockroaches.

    In neither case would I bother to read the story, having gained all necessary information from the headline.

  9. Jon Weinberg said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

    What is a "vile cards shock", ML wonders?

    Sick postcards threatening people not to complain about a council's refuse service have terrified some of their targets.

    The vile cards, which show a photograph of a pig, carry hand-scrawled notes warning their recipients not to complain about CityClean, Brighton and Hove City Council's waste collector.

    I didn't get, until reading the story, that the residents were involved in an argument about rubbish, rather than living in a place described as "rubbish row".

    http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/4334495.Sick_cards_threaten_Brighton_and_Hove_bin_complainers/

  10. David Morris said,

    June 20, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    Sydney ESL Teacher in Language Log Noun Pile Blog Entry Comment Thread Newspaper Headline Parody Attempt

  11. Jon said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    As another native reader, they all seemed petty transparent to me. The only one that gave me some pause was RUBBISH ROW RESIDENTS IN VILE CARDS SHOCK. The natural interpretation is that residents involved in a dispute over their rubbish collection service were sent offensive cards. That seemed at first rather unlikely, but turns out to be exactly the case, so top marks to the headline writer.

  12. Bob Crossley said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 3:40 am

    Perhaps one source for the noun pile is the "rule" that I was taught at school (in England in the 60s) that "a title cannot be a sentence". I have no idea where this rule originated or how widespread it was, but my school enforced it with rigour. The noun pile often conveys what a sentence would but without using a verb and breaking the rule.

    A psychological aside: these headlines don't normally amuse me, but now I know Americans misinterpret them they're hilarious – my mind has opened up to the ambiguity and strangeness which i had automatically ignored before in favour of the correct, and to me ,obvious

  13. Meesher said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    HERO NY BILL FOIL SHOCK OBAMA GIANT DEATH RAY KILL PLOT PAIR PLOT! Says it all, really.

  14. richardelguru said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    @ boynamedsue
    Surely "Brighton curry house cockroach fine" is a story about a cockroach that tried the vindaloo special at a Brighton curry house but eventually recovered.
    He (or she, how do you tell with a cockroach?) was poorly, but is now fine.
    Obvious really…

  15. Ginger Yellow said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 9:39 am

    "Is there really a systematic difference between British and U.S. headline culture?"

    I've probably said so here before, but in my opinion definitely yes. For instance, the "In X, a Y" syntactical construction so beloved of the New York Times (and other American papers), mocked along with its analogs here, is basically unknown in the UK. It's hard to describe how wrong it feels.to me as a British-trained journo. .

  16. Mr Punch said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    "Brighton cockroach curry house fine" reads like a restaurant review. Want outstanding cockroach curry in Brighton? Here's the place! The headlines are much clearer if we start with the assumption that all the words are in fact nouns.

  17. Rodger C said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    Isn't Rubbish Row off Rotten Row?

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

    I was looking at this morning's New York Post on the train this morning, and it is very noun-pile-deficient. Hard to find even three nouns in a row other than very standard-sounding strings like "Ohio rape victim." In the sports section it's not uncommon to have heds that are perfectly grammatical full sentences, e.g., "Peralta's blast propels Tigers over Red Sox" (assuming you think in context articles are optional rather than mandatory) or "Unable to shake Game 6, Spurs can't rally in Game 7." Back in the crime news, ""Hubby-killer rips courts before 5-year jail term" and "Moll tells of Whitey machine-gun 'hit'" are nicely tabloidy, but I think syntactically unexceptional. I guess maybe that's a three-noun pile at the end of the second one?

  19. pj said,

    June 21, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    I like the picture of the newspaper board, where each noun is centred on its own line like separate items on a list. 'Brighton photo studio jobs misery' is not nearly so impactfully pile-y a pile as

    Brighton

    photo

    studio

    jobs

    misery

    That reads almost like an abstract and heartrending kind of short story in itself.

  20. Meagen said,

    June 24, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

    One local one I remember clearly was MAN HELD OVER DUNDEE FIRE, which seemed unusually harsh at first glance.

  21. Richard Bos said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    Dundee Fire? Eh, he'll be fine. In the Scots weather, that fire'll rain out in no time.

  22. Walter Burley said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

    @ Jon Weinbert

    Nothing to do with Donald McGill? Pity.

  23. Walter Burley said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

    Jon Weinberg rpt Weinberg. Sorry.

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