Headline copy-editing crash blossoms

Suppose you saw a headline like “Maine harbors concern over Bangor landing.” The story is about an airplane that lands in Bangor and ultimately causes distress among Maine politicians. But you might get four words into the headline with the mistaken impression that someone is concerned about the harbors of Maine. Then you hit the word “over” and stop short… Maine harbors concern over… huh?. You might get all the way to the last word before you fully realize a verb/noun parse error with the ambiguous word “harbors”.

Some headlines are so spectacularly ambiguous that you might read them through three or four times and still have no idea what they mean. As you might expect, the wordheads over at the Language Log have come up with name for this kind of headline parsing problem: crash blossoms. Why? Here is the story behind the name.

At Testy Copy Editors.com, a worthy colleague, Nessie3, posted this headline:

Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms

(If this seems a bit opaque, and it should, the story is about a young violinist whose career has prospered since the death of her father in a Japan Airlines crash in 1985.)

It’s just a new name for an old problem, of course, but it’s still fun to collect them. Two more from the Language Log.

McDonald’s fries the holy grail for potato farmers. Yum! said Sir Galahad as he licked the ketchup and grail grease from his lips.

This one is not so much amusing as truly vexing to fully unwind: Scottish National Party signals debate legal threat.

Can you add any?

One thought on “Headline copy-editing crash blossoms”

  1. Linguists call these kinds of sentences “garden path sentences”,
    and the classic example oft-used in textbooks is “The horse raced past the barn fell.”

    The New York Post controversially ran this headline when Ike Turner died: “Ike Turner Beats Tina To Death”

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