A grisly crash blossom

What would you do to escape prosecution?

Crash blossoms, as you may know, are headlines that can lead you up the garden path, semantically speaking.

Today’s Irish Times has a mild one. The word to, commonly used in headlines to indicate futurity (as in the example above), here inadvertently generates an alternative meaning in which the Dutch TV presenters ate human flesh in order to escape prosecution.

It’s a wild idea.

The headline is unlikely to be misunderstood, but it has the potential to cause a momentary miscue — replacing to with will would avoid it — and it is grammatically interesting.

There are more crash blossoms here, at Language Log (including the recent gem “Does Donald Trump support matter?”), and on the Crash Blossoms blog.

10 Responses to A grisly crash blossom

  1. Yikes if you have to indulge in some autoanthropophagy to avoid charges in Holland then remind me never to break the law there!

  2. Carrol Peterson says:

    A student evaluation of a Shakespeare teacher–
    “I enjoyed the class because she takes such an interest in the coarse.”

  3. John Cowan says:

    This is an interesting case, because the bad reading is not, grammatically speaking, a headline. A proper headline is a full sentence with the possible omission of a copular verb, in this case are before to. If we read to as short for in order to, then we have a simple noun phrase with no verb at all.

    True headlines were first used about 1890 in the U.S., and I think somewhat later elsewhere. Before that, the stuff in large type was typically just a noun phrase, often a repeating one like “The War” or “Foreign Affairs”. But there were occasional exceptions: a 1781 headline was unimpeachable by modern standards, even to the rarely-justified use of an exclamation point: Cornwallis Taken!

  4. joy says:

    The real question is why on earth the Dutch journalists indulged in this bit of cannibalism!

  5. Claude says:

    Actually, as long as it’s my own flesh! At least, I know it’s clean…

    How about the missing letter in the telegram this poor guy sent to his wife while on a business trip: “I wish you were her…”

    I wonder whom, or what, he had to eat when he returned.

  6. Ckaude: a hell of a lot of crow I would guess!

  7. Stan says:

    Jams: Desperate times, eh. If you’re lucky, they might let you away with biting your nails.

    Carrol: As did Shakespeare himself! Though I assume the pun was unintended.

    John: Yes. As a noun phrase it would be more ambiguous if it appeared as a photo caption rather than a headline. Your example “The War” reminds me of this dramatic front page in The Onion:

    Joy: Indeed! One of the presenters said: “The punchline of the show is to get really simple answers to stupid questions”; and they were asked what human flesh tasted like. To that you could add curiosity and an appetite for audience-grabbing provocation.

    Claude: Yes: you know where you’ve been! As for the telegram, I expect the sender had to eat a hefty slice of humble pie. But when we eat our words, does that include missing letters?

  8. I have an old magazine article (The Sciences, May/June 1998, pp32-37), which contains excerpts from the translated work of Pierre Clastres (originally in French). It’s an anthropological article about cannibals, and among other things answers the question of what human flesh tastes like. You would enjoy it.

    (Spoiler: like pork, but with a higher fat content.)

  9. Stan says:

    ‘You would enjoy it.’

    Probably, Adrian! The last thing I read along those lines was Piers Paul Read’s Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. It was quite gripping.

  10. […] Submitted by Stan Carey who wrote a blog post discussing it. […]

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