What do you make of a headline like the one above? You’d never dare write it in a good, clean English sentence, but headlines have a grammar of their own. And that sometimes leads to such ambiguity. Which is the verb in the headline – blossoms or puzzle?
A particularly curious headline that appeared on the site Japan Today –
Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms
– led to the coining of a new phrase.
And thus Japan Today made an invaluable contribution to the English language, as the phrase ‘crash blossoms‘ came into use to describe headlines that are ambiguous in meaning to the reader, even though the writer did not intend them that way. A fairly common phenomenon, familiar to newspaper readers in almost all languages, finally has a name. And as an aside, it is so much easier to make a legitimate new phrase than a new word; witness the controversy over Sarah Palin’s ‘refudiate‘.
Just look around, there will be one lurking around your newspaper. I interrupted writing this post for 5 minutes to hunt for one — and sure enough, found this crash blossom in today’s Economic Times.
Is it that exporters are afraid that unfavourable conditions are building up in China, or that China is afraid of the build up of something? You wouldn’t know till you read deep into the article.
Now one may be willing to read deep into the physical paper, but on the net, with its low attention spans, one might just click one’s way out. (And if that is a debate that interests you, I couldn’t do better than to point you to David Brooks’ excellent article).
The blog www.crashblossoms.com collects, well, crash blossoms from around the world. So if you have encountered one today, share it there, and share it here too.
And finally, hat-tip to The Economist’s Johnson blog, where I read about crash blossoms first.