How far up the garden path can a Time Lord go?

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[From here via David Morris, who adds that we should not doubt the seriousness of the doctor's situation]


  1. richardelguru said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 6:10 am

    I didn't realise that Bin Laden was in jail when they raided him…at least not till now.

  2. Anthony said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    Doctor Who is a bit of a lefty, but I didn't think he'd go that far…

  3. NW said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    Well obviously he's there trying to get him out of an alternative time stream where he was captured and things went horribly wrong.

  4. Dean said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    It's just The Doctor.

  5. Jukka Kohonen said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 8:32 am

    Oh, the doctor (who aided) haz bin laden?

  6. Narmitaj said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 8:40 am

    @ Anthony "Doctor Who is a bit of a lefty, but I didn't think he'd go that far…"

    Aiding the US military to assassinate Bin Laden is "lefty"? The Doctor aided the raid on Bin Laden; he did not aid Bin Laden. (Not that aiding Bin Laden is particularly lefty either.)

  7. Zubon said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 8:48 am

    "Bin Laden raid" is potentially ambiguous between a raid ON Bin Laden or BY Bin Laden. "Doctor who aided US military raid" would probably be read as aiding a raid by the US military (rather than on).

  8. Boris said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 8:51 am

    Even primed with "time lord" in the subject, I didn't parse "Doctor Who" as a unit until about the fifth reading. It's a completely unremarkable headline as far as I'm concerned.

  9. Brett said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    @Dean: Insisting his name is "The Doctor" is a shibboleth for fans of the resurrected series. The character was "Doctor Who" in the credits for the classic series, although he was never actually addressed that way. Whereas on the new show, his name is "The Doctor", but he is sometimes called "Doctor Who." In the (probably best forgotten) Peter Cushing Dalek movies, his actual name was "Doctor Who."

    The garden path sentence here would not have tripped me up without a significant degree of priming (from the post title and the fact that I was watching Doctor Who last night). I started out thinking of The Doctor aiding in the raid on bin Laden's compound, but before I had finished reading, my familiarity with the news story involved had nudged me back toward the correct reading.

  10. John said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 9:13 am

    The interesting thing about this is that it's a headline ambiguity created by an attempt to AVOID a noun pileup.

    "Bin Raid Aid Doc Jailed"* would by contrast be entirely comprehensible….

    * Yes, UK tabloids really do (or once did) have a tendency to refer to bin Laden as "Bin" in headlines.

  11. Brett said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    @John: Despite Tina Brown's British origins, The Daily Beast is an American Web site, and it would not never have produced a hed like the one you suggest. The actual headline was not written in order to avoid a noun pileup, since those aren't standard in American headline-ese. Moreover, the salience of the phrase "doctor who" is much lower in America than Britain, and I think most American readers wouldn't be confused by this hed at all.

  12. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    @ John — Isn't that the equivalent of calling a Scotsman "Mac"?

  13. J Lee said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 9:36 am

    median age of language log readers=105

  14. spherical said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    Looking at the WaPo article, it's ironic how a rhetoric very similar to that which the quoted Pentagon officials use to justify the deeds of Shakil Afridi could be applied to a certain Edward Snowden.

    Apparently the US administration reserves for itself the right to define who counts as a traitor and who counts as a patriot no matter what the country.

  15. John Roth said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    Without the priming of the headline, I also would never have thought this was a reference to the fictional "Doctor Who." What tripped me up for a moment was the word "raid." On first reading it looked like it was bin Laden who conducted the raid, rather than being raided.

  16. Matt McIrvin said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    @Brett: "The Doctor" vs. "Doctor Who" was a fan shibboleth even during the original-series era. The character credit at the end actually changed from "Doctor Who" to "The Doctor" over the course of both the old and the new series.

    While it's uncommon, there are also two or three moments in the earlier decades of the original TV series in which he's either explicitly named as "Doctor Who" or some joke is built around it (not counting the far more numerous times that some character asks "Doctor who?") And the earlier tie-in novels, comics, etc. often referred to him by that name.

  17. Matt McIrvin said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

    …Of course, when Doctor Who started out, TV episodes were regarded as ephemeral creations, and long-term continuity as a minor consideration; nobody would have dreamed of fans a half-century in the future picking over such details as to whether somebody called the main character "Doctor Who" in some episode or other. And even today, the makers of the series insist that it doesn't possess anything so set in stone as a "canon." So it's probably best not to be too picky about it.

    (Consider the fact that the BBC wiped the master tapes of huge chunks of the Hartnell and Troughton eras, considering them to be of less value than the tape they were recorded on.)

  18. David Morris said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

    I wonder whether one's television viewing habits prime (or not) them to parse 'Doctor Who' as one unit.
    Also, I would never style a headline or title in all caps, and not even as each word capped, but in sentence case. 'Doctor who aided bin Laden raid is jailed' is instantly unambiguous (except the pesky lower case 'b' on 'bin').
    Also, also, being a restrictive relative clause, would anyone use 'that': 'Doctor that aided …'? I wouldn't – it's just 'wrong' to me. I don't know why; all the grammar books allow, and some prescriptivists prescribe 'that' in restrictive relative clauses.

  19. The Ridger said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

    I've seen such headlines before. "Doctor Who Lost Cho's Record Had Been Fired After Review" is the first one I explicitly noted; it, of course, is a garden path rather than a real ambiguity. Headline casing makes it worse: "Doctor who…" wouldn't be read like that.

  20. BarryB said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

    I suspect it was the Master in disguise–and probably Roger Delgado, at that.

  21. DEP said,

    June 27, 2013 @ 7:40 am

    This is also why newspapers should avoid headlines in all caps.
    "Doctor who assisted Bin Laden raid in jail"
    No problem.

  22. DEP said,

    June 27, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    Sorry Ridger. Should have read all the comments first!

  23. Martha said,

    June 29, 2013 @ 10:54 am

    From Boris: Even primed with "time lord" in the subject, I didn't parse "Doctor Who" as a unit until about the fifth reading. It's a completely unremarkable headline as far as I'm concerned.

    I didn't parse "Doctor Who" until I read Boris's comment. "What does that have to do with Doctor Who?" I wondered. "Do Time Lords conduct raids?"

    "Raid" tripped me up. At first I thought it was meant to be a verb.

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