Wednesday, December 14, 2016

headline of the day

Attempt, if you will, to parse this gem from the BBC News website today: Corpse sex kill threat man gets 45 years.

So who was making the threat? The corpse? And if so, what was the nature of the threat? To kill people (or maybe just one particular person, this "man") by having sex with them in some sort of horrific zombie rape/murder rampage? More likely (if we exclude the various zombie scenarios) that it was the man making the threat, but if the corpse then becomes the object of the threat, "kill" doesn't hold much power, a corpse being dead already and all. Indeed making pretty much any threats to a corpse ("sex" included) is a fairly futile activity.

So what's going on? The (very) slightly revised version of the headline on the main story page isn't much help, but it turns out that it was the "man" making the threats, which basically involved first turning living people into corpses by murdering them, and then doing the sex bit afterwards, sex with living people apparently being a bit complex and involving a lot of red tape and potential misunderstandings. Better to murder them first and then save the sexy sexy times until afterwards. Plus it presumably saves any awkwardness over who pays the bill after dinner.

This is one of those headlines where any kind of comprehensibility evaporates once the sub-editors have applied the space-saving journalistic convention of just mashing a load of nouns together without any explanatory prepositions, conjunctions or pronouns. Previous examples from this blog can be found here, here and here. Language Log calls it a "noun pile-up", which I think is pretty good. Previous examples can be found here, here and here - almost inevitably it turns out that they've spotted today's as well, and indeed written nearly the same blog post, although in a slightly more sober academic tone without so much freaky zombie sex. Take your pick.

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