West Croydon Tram Race

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A rare seven word BBC News headline noun pile sighting: "Emma West Croydon tram race rant woman sentenced", BBC News 7/1/2013:

A woman who was filmed shouting racist abuse on a London tram in a video watched by 11 million people has been given a community sentence.

Emma West, 36, of New Addington, admitted racially-aggravated disorderly behaviour likely to cause harassment or distress at Croydon Crown Court.

Robert Twin, who sent in the sighting, notes that "It's particularly confusing because West Croydon does indeed have trams".

Obligatory screenshot:


  1. pjharvey said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 5:38 am

    Blimey. Surely 'Croydon tram race rant woman Emma West sentenced' would have been a better choice of headline, despite still being quite the noun pile.

  2. Chris said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 5:56 am

    I agree with pjharvey. I'm British and normally this type of headline causes me no trouble, but this one just seems *wrong* even by normal headlinese standards. And I don't think it's just the Emma West/West Croydon ambiguity, just the ordering with her name at the front. "Jane Smith Croydon Tram Race Rant Woman Sentenced" still sounds completely wrong to me, while the version with "Croydon tram race rant woman Emma West" wouldn't strike me as at all out of the ordinary.

  3. Stan said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 6:01 am

    It echoes the classic "Slough sausage choke baby death woman jailed".

  4. fev said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    Please tell me the Sun went with "Croydon tram race rant Emma sentenced."

  5. Ellen K. said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 6:42 am

    "Emma West" and "woman" refer to the same person, right? If so, isn't it really a name followed by a 5 noun pile, with a missing comma in between?

    [(myl) But in most systems, names are a kind of noun…]

  6. Brian T said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    Maybe they're pushing for Emma West to be recognizable by her name instead of her long, multiword descriptor. She might be at that cusp-of-familiarity moment, like when Casey Anthony started being "Casey" in tabloid headlines instead of "Tot Mom." Headline writers would love it if everybody had compact, evenly spaced names like "Emma West"; it seems designed to appear in one-column headlines. The only thing that would improve it would be for "West" to be replaced by something that can't be anything but a surname, like Dodd or Roth.

  7. Simon Wright said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 8:11 am

    I'd have liked to have seen the tram race – though since there's normally only one track in each direction it might have been difficult to set up.

  8. Ø said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    "likely to cause harassment or distress at Croydon Crown Court" is pretty good, too.

  9. Sentence Referent Noun-Pile Confusion Resolution said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    […] always-excellent Language Log had a post this morning in their semi-recurring series on noun piles, hard-to-parse strings of nouns that […]

  10. Bobbie said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    At first I thought that there was a place called Emma West Croydon.

  11. Bob Massingbird said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 10:02 am

    This remind me of Captain Darling from Blackadder who was born in Croydon

  12. James said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    The phrase, "Emma West Croydon tram race rant woman sentenced" contains eight words, not seven. Clearly, you've shortened the sentence the BBC gave her.

  13. RW said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 10:42 am

    The use of the woman's name in this headline sounds really weird to me. I think it's extremely uncommon for names of members of the public to be used like this in headlines. I'd guess it's actually the result of an error and the headline was just supposed to be "Croydon tram race rant woman sentenced" – which would nevertheless still read to me as if she had been ranting about a tram race.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 11:06 am

    At least the "race rant" didn't turn into a "race row"? Wimbledon is where the Wombles lived, I think, but I'm a bit short on popular-culture associations with Croydon, except for that one self-referential Mott the Hoople song (where the band is in the process of breaking up but "THEN WE WENT TO CROYDON" and a hit record plus renewed fame and fortune ensue). Neither Croydon nor Wimbledon are mentioned in the lyrics of Robyn Hitchcock's elegaic "Trams of Old London," but I suppose the focus of the many London-area toponyms mentioned there is the places where trams used to run but no longer do.

  15. ElBonte said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 11:09 am

    Why not
    "Emma West Croydon tram race rant woman sentence"
    for the rare 8-pile? British headlinese doesn't require a verb, does it?

  16. John Lawler said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    Shouldn't it be

    "Croydon tram race rant woman Emma West sentenced"?

    That's the prototypic Dan Brown noun pileup formula, as Geoff has pointed out.

  17. Ellen K. said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    [(myl) But in most systems, names are a kind of noun…]

    Yes, name are a noun, but it's not a single noun pile, it seems to me.

    Emma West, Croydon tram race rant woman, sentenced

    I don't read that as a single, 7-noun noun pile, but a name (which yes, is a noun), followed by a 5-noun noun pile that describes the person.

  18. Ellen K. said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    The phrase, "Emma West Croydon tram race rant woman sentenced" contains eight words, not seven. Clearly, you've shortened the sentence the BBC gave her.

    An 8-word headline, yes, but the last word is not a noun, so not an 8-word headline noun pile.

  19. richard said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    Emma West Crodon tram race rant woman sentenced eight-word headline noun pile nixed!

  20. Rod Johnson said,

    July 2, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

    I agree with Ellen, something about the appositive with "Ellen West" disqualifies it.

    (Is "racially-aggravated disorderly behaviour likely to cause harassment or distress" the actual offense she was charged with? Seems very… specific.)

  21. Nick Lamb said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 4:04 am

    Rob, the Crown isn't obliged to provide sound bite names for offences, it is sufficient to write in an Act some formula like "it shall be offence to…" or "a person shall be guilty of an offence if he…" and then specify what people are not to do.

    Sometimes there is a convenient sub-heading, or the offence committed is named e.g. "Riot" or "Affray" in the text of the Act. But often the sub-heading is a big unwieldy thing and so prosecutors and courts alike are content to identify the offence by the legal Short Name of the Act and the section, sub-section as necessary. Today you can Google and get yourself not only the text of the act itself but also e.g. the prosecutor's own instructions


    In this case I believe the charge was either Section 4A or 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which both have unwieldy sub-headings. "Disorderly Behaviour" seems to be a common phrase for this group of offences but it's not specified by the text.

    The "likely to cause harassment or distress" will be an element of the crime, that is, something the prosecution had to prove to a jury to establish guilt. "racially-aggravated" is a prefix they can add to anything which bumps the typical and maximum sentence where racial bigotry motivated the offence. There are a host of such factors, both aggravating and mitigating an offence, which might be in play but this one does seem especially relevant to the headline.

  22. Haamu said,

    July 5, 2013 @ 11:33 am

    I'm with Ellen K. and Rod Johnson: we should distinguish between "pure" noun piles and noun piles containing appositives, on the grounds that the latter are closer to normal usage. The appositive segment of the noun pile doesn't entail elision of non-nouns from the expression of this thought — and that elision is, I think, the reason we find noun piles remarkable.

    This example gets a noun pile appositive segment elision avoidance asterisk, I think.

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