What’s a Crash Blossom?

WE’VE all giggled, I’m sure, over ambiguous newspaper headlines but they continue to slip though the editing net into just about every paper in the world, no matter how much their authors – usually sub-editors – sweat and stress over them.

The problem, of course, is that the people writing the headlines know what they mean. To them, the message is clear … until the next day, when they squirm red-faced as the now-obvious “other” meaning is pointed out.

I recently discovered a delightful name for these unintentional headline howlers – crash blossoms.

Delicious, isn’t it?

I’m adopting it immediately.

Not surprisingly, it was an ambiguous headline that spawned the expression – not one of mine, thank goodness. No, this one – ‘Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms’ – appeared in an English-language Japanese newspaper.

What, wondered the man who spotted it, was a crash blossom.

It turned out the young violinist in question hadn’t been linked to dodgy horticulture but was the now-successful – blossoming, in fact – daughter of a man who died in a 1985 Japan airlines crash.

The blooper was duly noted on the “Testy Copy Editors” forum, whose members quickly suggested it should in future be the label for “such infelicitous headlines that encourage alternate readings”.

“Crash blossoms” turned up again on Language Log, an entertaining – if sometimes overly-academic (for me, at least) – linguistics blog, which gave its stamp of approval. The online Urban Dictionary followed suit, and now there’s even a dedicated website

Recent beauties submitted by eagle-eyed readers include:

‘Samoan clerics finger homosexuals over global warming’
‘More candidates hunting for votes with guns’
‘Irish priest makes history by marrying own son’ (a match made in heaven, I guess)

I’m just glad I’m not one of the embarrassed scribes who wrote any of those, or the following, from Bad Newspaper Headlines

‘Blind Bishop Appointed to See’
‘Eye drops off shelf’
‘Juvenile court to try shooting defendant’
‘Miners refuse to work after death’
‘Stolen painting found by tree’
‘New study of obesity looks for larger test group’
‘Kids make nutritious snacks’
‘Local high school dropouts cut in half’

Most of these bloopers are the result of headline space being limited. A sort of headline “shorthand” has necessarily evolved resulting in some words being left out, particularly articles, auxiliary verbs and forms of “to be”, as the Language Log points out.

Commenting on the headline ‘McDonalds fries the holy grail for potato farmers’, one of their experts notes that this shorthand robs the reader of “crucial context”.

“If that … headline had read ‘McDonald’s fries are the holy grail for potato farmers’, there would have been no crash blossom for our enjoyment.” – Stevie Godson
(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch)

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 at 6:41 am and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Comment

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stevie Godson, Stevie Godson. Stevie Godson said: What’s a Crash Blossom? http://bit.ly/dcDEZt […]

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