Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yahoo! Headline's Rape Victims, Crash Blossoms

Popping up in a number of places today, including Language Log, is the Yahoo! News "crash blossom" headline,

Women, girls rape victims in Haiti quake aftermath

A crash blossom is a newspaper headline that, after "standard" length reductions -- such as removing articles and linking verbs -- requires multiple readings to understand. Crash blossoms often appear because some word(s) in the headline could be read as different parts of speech -- which is what happened in the headline above.

Rape is meant to be a noun modifier of "victims" -- rape victims -- but it is more easily read as a verb. The real verb are has been omitted to save space.

The phrase crash blossom was coined by John McIntyre from one of the first instances of it that took his notice:

Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms

In this case, blossoms is a verb, and the headline actually means "The violinist who is linked to the JAL crash is prospering." The link in question is that the violinist's father died in the crash.

Entire sentences that (normally) make grammatical sense but are pretty much the same sort of train wrecks are referred to as garden path sentences.