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Column: Girl in France murders car, crash blossoms

AA LIFE 0801 Curtis grammar column

Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Have you caught the Crash Blossoms’ reunion tour this summer? If you missed it, it’s because the Crash Blossoms aren’t a real band. They sound like a mid-to-late-‘90s one-hit-wonder group, whose No. 1 song was called something like “Hey Monica” or “We Met in the Chat Room.”

In fact, a crash blossom is something I find equally entertaining, although I would have definitely rolled the windows down and turned the radio up for “Hey Monica.” A crash blossom is a news headline with unclear wording that can lead to confusing meanings. The term got its name back in 2009 when an American editor in Japan came across a headline that read “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms.” The editor, after reading the headline, wondered what a “crash blossom” was. In fact, it had to do with the violinist — whose father died in an airline crash in 1985 — advancing her musical career. The headline was misleading.

Let’s look at a few examples. A 2012 New York Times opinion column featured a headline that read “Israel Ducks on Human Rights.” It wasn’t about ducks from Israel and their thoughts about human rights (as opposed to duck rights). In fact, the essay lamented that the Israeli government had shown a pattern of avoiding getting involved in cases where foreign governments were allegedly committing human rights violations.

A 2012 BBC news story confused many when it led with the headline, “Girl found alive in France murders car.” To help you understand what actually happened here, let’s look at a CNN headline about the same story: “France shootings: Girl hid under bodies in car.” What happened here is that a woman was found alive among deceased bodies inside a car that was connected to a string of murders in France.

Ambiguous news headlines make me snort-laugh, but what would you expect from a former English major? “Police Can’t Stop Gambling.” “Blind Bishop Appointed To See.” “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks.” “Milk Drinkers Turn to Powder.” “Child’s Stool Great for Use in Garden.” “Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim.” You can’t make this stuff up, and I can’t wait to see how my editor changes the title I originally wrote for this column.

With limited column widths and space on a physical page, copy editors are forced to truncate headlines. Of course, that assumes that editors still plan headlines and word-count limits based on a physical newspaper, which, for the most part, is still the case. That’s why we’re puzzled when we read a headline that says, “Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts.” I’d recommend reading beyond the headlines so you get the full story.

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