Flop oil

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Ruki Sayid & Ben Glaze, "Boris Johnson returns from Saudi Arabia empty handed after flop oil beg trip",  The Mirror 3/17/2022:

Boris Johnson is landing back in Britain empty-handed this morning after his oil begging trip to the Gulf flopped – and Vladimir Putin lashed out at the West.

Russia ’s invasion of Ukraine has fuelled price hikes with a litre of unleaded now more than £1.60, piling misery on British families already struggling with household bills.

The obligatory screenshot:

The link and screenshot were sent in by "occasional commenter" Doreen, who noted that "I spotted this noun pileup on a UK tabloid newspaper site today and spent several seconds wondering what 'flop oil' might be used for."

A worthy competitor for crash blossoms — see also Ben Zimmer, "Crash Blossoms", NYT 1/27/2010, decorated with this image:

Curiously, a quick glance suggests that the rest of the Mirror's current headlines are surprisingly pile-free. Online versions of UK papers (Daily Mail, Metro, …) seem to be adopting a similar trend, with unexpectedly wordy headlines in some cases — are the print versions still adhering to the old norms?

Perhaps due to osmosis from the common phase "flop sweat", my immediate association for "flop oil" was the widely-noted leakage of some mysterious dark substance  from Rudy Giuliani's sideburns at a news conference in November of 2020.


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 6:56 am

    Just to say how ashamed I am to be a Briton when the British Daily Mirror's prime concern regarding the Russian war on Ukraine is that "Russia ’s invasion of Ukraine has fuelled price hikes with a litre of unleaded now more than £1.60, piling misery on British families already struggling with household bills". I would personally have said that it is the Ukrainians who are experiencing true misery, while we Britons are merely experiencing a minor fiscal inconvenience.

  2. mollymooly said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 7:33 am

    I did not recognise the supposedly common phrase "flop sweat", and Glowbe suggests that it is North American, so one can't fault a British publication for failing to foresee resulting misfires.

  3. KeithB said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 7:46 am

    It seems that in the US they are more concerned with the expression "Up like a rocket, down like a feather", which I had never heard before.

  4. Jamie said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 8:10 am

    Wouldn't that be hyphenated: "flop-oil beg trip"

    (Also had no idea what a flop sweat was)

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 9:07 am

    I got garden-pathed by "…has fuelled price hikes with a litre of unleaded", which struck me as an oddly specific metaphor until I read the next line.

  6. Bloix said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 10:47 am

    I'm familiar with the business jargony nouns "ask" and "get" but before this I'd never seen "beg" used that way.

  7. AntC said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 3:24 pm

    … empty handed after oil beg trip flop

    works for me, and would equally fit the column width. (And like other Brit commenters, "flop oil" doesn't ring any bells, although I do remember the Giuliani incident.)

    The Mirror is just trying to catch eyeballs, 'innit?

  8. VVOV said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 10:30 pm

    To my (American) eyes/ears, the odd and virtually ungrammatical (even within the syntax of Headline-English) component of the headline is the use of "beg". I want it to be "oil begging trip".

    Also agree with AntC that "oil beg[ging] trip flop" is superior.

  9. James Wimberley said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 6:49 am

    Johnson's spin machine will soon give us an "oil beg trip flip-flop".

  10. James Wimberley said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 7:15 am

    Bloix: Oddly, the recent coinage "bleg" is both noun and verb,

  11. Trogluddite said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 9:18 am

    @AntC: I'dd go so far as saying that "flop" at the *end* of the noun pile would be idiomatic for British Headlinese. Even having resolved the headline's meaning, "flop" at the *start* of the pile just seems wrong.

    I also agree with the OP that UK tabloid headlines (online at least) have become far more verbose and specific. In a 1980's era tabloid, I would have expected something far more snappy, and rarely missing the opportunity for some rhyme or (especially) alliteration – e.g. "Petrol Price Pain: Saudis Snub Begging Boris".

    I suppose that the publishers have found some aspect of web browser and/or smartphone usage which makes the new forms more "click-baity" – the way that truncation can lead to 'cliffhanger' ellipses., maybe? (e.g. "Police arrest evil gang who…").

  12. David Morris said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 4:42 pm

    Speaking about truncated headlines, I have a moderately strong memory of a Language Log or similar writer saying that a notification for a blog he subscribes to read something like 'I admire (some other linguist) for his enormous arse..'. The full sentence was 'I admire (some other linguist) for his enormous arsenal of knowledge about (some aspect of linguistics)'. I can't find it now – I have searched for most likely combinations. The most relevant results discuss the 'Adj-ass N' and the least relevant results … show, don't tell.

    Am I seriously mis-remembering here?

  13. Bloix said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 6:29 pm

    James Wimberly –
    I suppose the existence of bleg n. implies the existence of beg n. but I'd never seen it in the wild before.

  14. Bloix said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 6:31 pm

    James Wimberley – beg your pardon for the missing e.

  15. Viseguy said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 6:31 pm

    This post got me looking into the origins of "flop sweat". It seems it comes from the world of theater — profuse sweating brought on by fear of public embarrassment or failure. If "flop oil" gains traction, maybe it will come to mean an embarrassment of unsold petroleum brought on by abject failure in the theater of war, esp. a grossly unjust, unnecessary, fratricidal war. "UK Tabloid Flop Oil Crash Blossom Fuels New World Order", anyone?

  16. Arthur Baker said,

    March 19, 2022 @ 3:12 pm

    Nah. Flop is Bunter's toddler haircut.

  17. Philip Anderson said,

    March 20, 2022 @ 2:12 pm

    What the headline says is that Boris returned after a trip to beg for oil, which was a flop (where flop is qualifying trip). Isn’t returning after a trip more common than returning after a flop? Even for Boris

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