21 December 2020

So there's fire in Dolly Parton's pajamas?

There's a term for the type of grammatical ambiguity in this headline, but I can't remember the word.  Not "eggcorn."  Something else.  (And since this was in the New York Times, I can't help but wonder if it was intentional).  What is the term?  Then I'll write some more about it.

Addendum:  Hat tip to reader Brad, who remembered the term "crash blossom."  See my previous posts "Two 'crash blossom' headlines" and "Crash blossom of the day."  And way back in 2010 I posted this list of crash blossom headlines (selected favorites in boldface):
Blind Bishop Appointed To See
L.A. Voters Approve Urban Renewal by Landslide
Patient At Death's Door - Doctors Pull Him Through
Stadium Air Conditioning Fails - Fans Protest
Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped
Fund Set Up for Beating Victim's Kin
Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One
Autos Killing 110 a Day - Let's Resolve to Do Better
Blind Woman Gets New Kidney from Dad She Hasn't Seen in Years
Flaming Toilet Seat Causes Evacuation at High School
Defendants Speech Ends in Long Sentence
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Stiff Opposition Expected to Casketless Funeral Plan
Collegians are Turning to Vegetables
Quarter of a Million Chinese Live on Water
Farmer Bill Dies in House
Eye Drops off Shelf
Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
Miners Refuse to Work after Death
Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Deaf College Opens Doors to Hearing
Prosecutor Releases Probe into Undersheriff
Old School Pillars are Replaced by Alumni
Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training
4-H Girls Win Prizes for Fat Calves
After Detour to California Shuttle Returns to Earth
Air Head Fired
Alcohol Frequently Seen In Cases (from the Colorado Daily News)
Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
Ban On Soliciting Dead in Trotwood
Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board
British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
British Union Finds Dwarfs in Short Supply
Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy (from the Louisville Courier Journal)
Child's Death Ruins Couple's Holiday
Deer Kill 17,328
Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
Drunken Drivers Paid $1000 in `84
Enfields Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
Heat Wave Linked to Temperatures (from Daily Sun Post)
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors (from the Providence Journal)
Include your Children When Baking Cookies
Infertility Unlikely To Be Passed On (from the Montgomery Advertiser)
Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
Jerk Injures Neck, Wins Award (from the Buffalo News)
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years (from the Post News)
Lack of Brains Hinders Research (from The Columbus Dispatch)
Lansing Residents Can Drop Off Trees
Lawyer Says Client is Not That Guilty
Lawmen from Mexico Barbecue Guests
Legislator Wants Tougher Death Penalty
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half (From the Valley News)
Lung Cancer in Women Mushrooms
Man Jumps Off Bridge. Neither Jumper nor Body Found
Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing (from The Sun)
March Planned For Next August
Messiah Climaxes In Chorus Of Hallelujahs (The Anchorage, Alaska Times)
Milk Drinkers are Turning to Powder
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
New Vaccine may Contain Rabies
Official: Only Rain Will Cure Drought (from The Herald-News, Westpost, Massachusetts)
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over (from The Overland News)
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
Putting Mattress On Floor Prevents Fall From Bed (from the Associated Press)
Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped (from The Times, in the U.K.)
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66
Some Pieces of Rock Hudson Sold at Auction
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
Steals Clock, Faces Time
Stolen Painting Found by Tree
Stud Tires Out
Study Finds Sex, Pregnancy Link (Cornell Daily Sun, December 7, 1995)
Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
Teenage Girls Often Have Babies Fathered by Men (The Sunday Oregonian)
Two Convicts Evade Noose, Jury Hung (Headline from the Oakland Tribune)
Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
War Dims Hope for Peace
Woman Improving After Fatal Crash
Addendum:  one on a book cover, posted at Creative Bloq, via Neatorama

Here's one I spotted today (March 25) on Google News:

Just to clarify: it's the tornado that's expected to last for hours. not the homes.  And here's an old one I posted back in 2010:


  1. Marxism, as in Groucho. Cf. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."

    Worse: "Time flies like an arrow, Fruit flies like a banana." What kind of spray do you have to buy to get rid of time flies? Doubtless the doctor knows.

  2. Um, I think it is called lack of a comma.

  3. SNL sketch something about "You can't put too much water in a nuclear reactor..."

    Sorry I can't find the video to link to.

  4. Crash blossoms are often discussed at the Language Log blog, and maybe the phrase was even invented there. What the phrase means is debatable, as attested by the discussion https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2407. Some commenters think a true crash blossom involves a syntactic ambiguity, such as misreading a noun as a verb or misconstruing what word a prepositional phrase is modifying, rather than just semantics. (The “Flaming Toilet” headline is an example of the latter, involving two meanings of the noun “evacuation.”) The headline that led to the phrase was “Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms,” where the ambiguity stems from whether “blossoms” is to be understand as a noun or verb. Newspaper headlines are prone to this sort of ambiguous reading because they omit words, especially indefinite and definite articles.

  5. The Columbia Journalism Review published an annual collection of this sort of thing. My favorite was "The caller told police that she had seen sex taking place between two cars."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...