Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
Crash Blossoms Keep on Blossoming
My latest On Language column in the New York Times Magazine is all about "crash blossoms," a new term for a phenomenon that people have been noting for decades: newspaper headlines that can be read in unintended ways (like "British Left Waffles on Falklands"). I've already received a plethora of emails from readers who wanted to share crash blossoms that they've collected over the years.
Exquisitely ambiguous headlines have been mined for humor for quite a while, by outlets as far-ranging as the New Yorker, Punch magazine, the Columbia Journalism Review and Jay Leno's (once and future) Tonight Show. But it took the participants of the Testy Copy Editors discussion forum to come up with the perfect label for such headlines: "crash blossoms," which in turn derives from a difficult-to-parse headline ("Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms," appearing in Japan Today).
Here's a sampling of classic crash blossoms I've received in response to my column:
Consider the old New York Daily News front page headline of the 1940s announcing the demise of the head of the US Supreme Court named Stone. It read:
Way back in the day when AFL meant coal miners, John L. Lewis decided not to pursue a lawsuit. Headline:
LEWIS DROPS UNION SUIT
From the Albany Times Union, about 20 years ago, the following headline panicked me:
JAPAN RECALLS WORLD WAR II SURRENDER
A business short on a bad month for Intel:
CHIP MAKER ORDERS DIP
And here are two crash blossoms of more recent vintage (both rather morbid!):
From the Ledger of Lakeland, Fla.:
Lotto Winner's Body Remains Identified
From NBC Sports:
3 dead Detroit marathoners said to be healthy
Have you spotted any memorable crash blossoms? Let us know in the comments below!