Crash blossoms

If you can’t understand newspaper headlines, it may be because of their unique grammar. Or it may be because you’ve found a crash blossom. The term derives from this headline:

Violinist linked to crash blossoms

It is possible to read this and wonder: What on earth is a crash blossom?

Violinist [is] linked to crash blossoms
noun verb + preposition noun phrase

In fact, the story is about a violinist whose career has blossomed (i.e. flourished) since the death of her father in a plane crash. The word blossoms is a verb here, not a noun:

Violinist [who is] linked to crash blossoms
noun relative clause verb

Can you spot the problem in each of these headlines?

  • McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers
  • Fossil Yields Surprise Kin of Crocodiles
  • British Push Bottles Up German Rear [a war news story]
  • Google Fans Phone Expectations by Scheduling Android Event
  • British Left Waffles on Falklands
  • Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts
  • Republicans Look to Safety Net Programs as Deficit Balloons
  • Queen Mother tried to help abuse girl

The confusion in all of these is about whether certain words are nouns or verbs.

Read more about crash blossoms in the New York Times Magazine and Language Log.