Cutter stalks

« previous post | next post »

Allen G. Breed, "Corn maze cutter stalks fall fun across country", AP 9/5/2013:

My first thought was "What are 'corn maze cutter stalks', and why are they falling?" But then I ran aground on 'fun', and so after a brief consideration of the possibility that those cutter stalks might be a form of fall fun, I settled on the theory there's some vandal going around cutting down corn mazes (and who therefore 'stalks fall fun')". But it turns out to be something else entirely  — as the photo should have told me — the story is about a guy who creates corn mazes, not about someone who destroys them:

Over the past couple of months, Day has cut more than 50 corn mazes. Someone else does the designs, but there's definitely some artistry in the way he spins that steering knob.

"My paintbrush is a rototiller," Day says. "And a tractor hooked to it."

Most people associate corn mazes with Halloween, but the work starts long before October.

So the 'stalks' part is just a pun on cornstalks, maybe along with a tinge of Halloween.


  1. Karl Weber said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

    "Stalks" is a pun, but what about "maze" (maize)?

  2. Dick Margulis said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

    Karl, if farmers wanted to advertise maize mazes, they would. But at least as far as I'm aware, in the U.S. they don't. These constructions are called corn mazes because they're mazes cut in cornfields. Did the idea first occur to someone as a pun and grow from there? I don't know. But I don't think there's much play left in that pun if that's the case.

  3. Nathan said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

    "Maize" is not a well-known word in the US.

  4. Brett said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    "Maize" is not a particularly common word in America. I would probably only use it if I were talking about historical agriculture and wanted to emphasize the New World origins of the crop. However, I would fully expect to be understood in any such discussion; among educated speakers, the meaning of "maize" seems to be pretty well known, even if it's not used a lot.

  5. CherylT said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 1:27 am

    In the UK, they are maize mazes.

    There could be a corn maze cutter beetle, couldn't there? I can just see the critter, chomping the leaves or perhaps the stems with a distinctive maze pattern.

  6. Adrian said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 3:35 am

    What's the verb "stalks" supposed to mean here?

  7. richardelguru said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 6:05 am



  8. Grover Jones said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 6:46 am



  9. Rodger C said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 6:51 am

    I believe that in America "maize" is a term of art referring to the variety also called milo.

  10. Brian T said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    In the U.S., "maize" isn't a commonly used word but it IS a well-known word. Well-known enough, at least, for maze owners or headline writers to have applied the label "Maize Maze" to corn mazes in New Mexico, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York, Iowa, North Carolina, Montana, Illinois, Montana, Florida, Texas, California, Hawaii …

  11. Ellen K. said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 8:01 am

    @Rodger C. Variety of what? Milo is not a variety of corn. As for "maize", this American's never heard of "maize" used for anything other than corn/maize.

  12. Alexander said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    The peripheral status of the word "maize" in the US is pretty well indicated by the famous margarine advertisements from the 70s, which began with a Native American woman saying: "You call it 'corn', we call it 'maize'" – the "you" evidently meaning 'everybody but Native Americans'.

  13. Dr. Decay said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    I thought everybody knew that maize is a color, indistinguishable from yellow except in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

  14. Rodger C said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 9:52 am

    @Ellen K: My memory was imperfect. Googling "milo maize," I find that it's a variety of sorghum, also called simply milo, with maize-like seeds.

  15. Faldone said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    I'm familiar enough with the concepts of corn mazes and fall festivals that it took me some time to see what the mistaken meanings were for this headline. And, yeah, "stalks" was probably meant to be some sort of pun.

  16. Toma said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

    Aw, shucks, I missed another chance at another good corn pun.

  17. J Lee said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

    surely 'stalks' = 'stocks'

  18. kktkkr said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 12:15 am

    It took me forever to figure out that fall = autumn. I kept picturing corn stalks falling.

  19. Peter Taylor said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    I can't find an analysis which fits. There are two candidates for the verb, but "stalks" doesn't work semantically because the corn maze cutter precedes rather than follows the fall fun; and "fall" as the verb makes even less sense (it requires both "corn maze cutter stalks" as a noun phrase and "to fall fun"). The only other possibility requires "corn maze cutter stalks fall fun" to be a noun phrase, and it must surely break down as "fall fun" related to "corn maze cutter stalks".

  20. Pflaumbaum said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 6:18 am

    I'm with Peter – the AmHeadlinese seems to be beyond me here.

    Is the consensus that the maze-cutter is 'stalking' autumnal fun? What does that mean – that he's seeking it?

  21. Bloix said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 8:40 am

    Our local paper recently had a headline on a story that officials denied plans to sell the county fairground to a developer and move the fair to a more rural area:

    Fears of Montgomery Fair Fleeing Gaithersburg Unfounded

    I couldn't help wishing that they'd phrased it as:

    Montgomery Fair Flight Fears Unfounded

  22. Ellen K. said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 9:47 am

    I would say "stalks" here doesn't mean "follows" but something more like "pursues".

    Actually, I would say "stalk" doesn't ever mean "follow", just that stalking sometimes involves following.

    And, of course, as was pointed in the original post and the first comment, it's a pun.

  23. Faldone said,

    September 9, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    What Ellen K. said. These fall festivals are planned well in advance so the maze cutters can easily "stalk" them in advance of their dates.

  24. Jenny Tsu said,

    September 9, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

    Do page editors take perverse glee in coming up with ambiguous, garden-path headlines designed to baffle? Or, perhaps, if a headline confounds the reader at first glance, will the reader be more likely to click?

    Aside: although I am an American, I am sufficiently familiar with the word "maize" that when I was in Ladenburg, Germany last summer, I easily understood that a "Maislabyrinth" was a corn maze :)

  25. Ray Dillinger said,

    September 12, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

    In Kansas (and, I think, most rural or agricultural places where a distinction between the two needs to be made), "Maize" or "Milo" means sorghum, and "Corn" is – well, corn. But in much of America "Corn" and "Maize" are treated as synonymous.

    Most places, it's very vague; everybody seems to have a very specific meaning in mind for "Maize" but they neither agree on it nor are they cognizant of the fact that they don't. If you ask them to clarify, you tend to get a blank look. They ask "clarify what?" and they've invariably never heard of the other meaning. Whichever the "other" meaning happens to be in their area.

  26. casper camps said,

    September 14, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    Corn maze rules. Used to play in corn fields when I was a little kid. Now I have to work all the time.

    this post makes me think about the good old days!

RSS feed for comments on this post