Sweat dance plugs noun pile

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Katia Dmitrieva, "Madonna addicted to sweat dance plugs Toronto condos: Mortgages", Bloomberg News 1/10/2014 — Reader CD, a hardened journalistic veteran, calls this "a rare American noun pile headline":

It’s a spectacular garden path which turns out to be a noun pile. I’m pretty good at parsing headlinese but I had no idea what the story was supposed to be about, or even what the syntax was supposed to be, until I clicked through. I suppose it would have helped if I’d known the name of the song beforehand. I’m quite impressed by the flimsiness of the connection between the lead and the content of the story too, but that’s another matter.  

On the nationality question, it’s a Canadian story and possibly a Canadian writer, but Bloomberg has a very strict style guide for headlines regardless of jurisdiction, so I’m comfortable calling it American.

On the Bloomberg news feed, the headline was corrected to "In Toronto Condo War, a New Perk: Workout With Madonna" before I got a screenshot, but the reprints (e.g. at the SF Chronicle) retain the original in all its crash blossoming glory:

In case you don't get it yet, here's the lead:

Who better to promote Toronto’s slumping condo market than the Material Girl.  

Madonna, whose 2012 tour was the top-grossing act of the year worldwide with $296.1 million in revenue, will lead an “Addicted to Sweat” dance class next month at her Hard Candy Fitness studio inside Aura, a new 78-story condo tower in Toronto. The luxury development will also feature a sculpture- studded public gallery, a marble-lined lobby and a five-bedroom penthouse priced at C$18.4 million ($17 million).



  1. michael farris said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 6:20 am

    Okay, anyone who _wasn't_ thinking of butt plugs, please raise your hands so that you can be embarassed/mortified when you find out what they are…

    (and I'm sure the use of the word plug was on purpose for just that reason because Madonna).

  2. brenda said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 7:40 am

    I saved something from a Bahrain newspaper long ago: "Cheese Fires Paris Hotel Bomb Scare." Took me a bit to find the verb there.

  3. Ken said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 9:13 am

    brenda (#2): "Fires" = "Causes"?

  4. Brett said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 10:39 am

    I still don't understand what that colon is doing there.

    (The additional butt plug joke is left as an exercise.)

  5. Martha said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    It still doesn't make sense to me. Maybe it would if the colon were a comma? Madonna's dance promotes condos and mortgages? Is Madonna going to also give a talk about mortgages? That's the part that confuses me.

  6. Treesong said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

    I think the headline is misleading as it stands. It's clearer as 'Madonna addicted to sweat dance class plugs Toronto condos: Mortgages'.
    As for 'mortgages', I take it, rightly or wrongly, as providing business context for the article. We're telling you about a class being used to promote (plug??) condos, because mortgages.

  7. David Morris said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

    The original headline has every word capitalised. Mark's first sentence here capitalises only the first word (which happens to be a proper noun) and "Toronto" (which is clearly a proper noun), implying that "addicted" and "sweat" bear their usual meanings and word classes. But "Addicted to Sweat" turns out to be a song title, apparently (my knowledge of the Madonna oeuvre is limited). Almost every usage differentiates song titles by capitalisation (among otherwise non-capitalised words), italics (do they ever use italics in headline?) or quotation marks. Both the original headline writer and Mark failed to do this. The headline writer could/?should have written "Madonna 'Addicted to Sweat' dance …" and Mark "Madonna Addicted to Sweat dance …' but no doubt the headline writer was writing to a style guide and Mark wanted to preserve the ambiguity for as long as possible.
    Also, I would have written 'Madonna's … dance …' but I know that headlines often omit possessive 's.

  8. Ben Zimmer said,

    January 12, 2014 @ 1:33 am

    There's a whole Tumblr blog devoted to strange Bloomberg headlines (where this one appears). And Quartz ran an article a few months ago looking into "how Bloomberg headlines got to be so odd."

  9. Ginger Yellow said,

    January 13, 2014 @ 4:50 am

    As for 'mortgages', I take it, rightly or wrongly, as providing business context for the article. We're telling you about a class being used to promote (plug??) condos, because mortgages.

    CD here. Yes, that's my take too. The connection between Madonna and the rest of the story is so tenuous that I think an editor probably put that in just so that the headline had anything to do with the story at all.

  10. Chandra said,

    February 5, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

    Is it a month too late for me to point out that this isn't actually a noun pile? "Plugs" is a verb. And once you know that "Addicted to Sweat" is the title of a song, Addicted to Sweat Dance is a pretty straightforward descriptor and noun pairing, as is Toronto Condos.

    The ambiguity of British headlines arises from the fact that they are literally strings of nouns, whereas this may seem like a string of nouns, but it isn't.

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