The New York Times calls attention to a new phrase added to the language during 2009—“crash blossom.” This neologism is used to refer to infelicitously expressed newspaper headlines that produce double entendres that might be interpreted in more than one way. The example in the Times is SHARK ATTACKS PUZZLE EXPERTS, with assurances that it doesn’t mean Will Shortz and his confreres are in danger.
What the Times article does not explain is how the phrase “crash blossom” originated. Your intrepid blogger delved deep into the files to unearth the headline responsible: VIOLINIST LINKED TO JAL CRASH BLOSSOMS. It appeared in the online edition of Japan Today over a story about the musician Diana Yukawa, whose father had been killed in a Japanese airline crash and whose career was now flourishing. Subsequent comment on this headline on the website testycopyeditors.org resulted in the coinage of the phrase.
Newspaper headlines lend themselves to unintended ambiguity since the people who write them, even though they may have summa cum laude Harvard English degrees, have to cram a lot of information into a rigidly restricted space on a tight deadline. A few of the more provocative “crash blossoms” that I have encountered are:
JUVENILE COURT TO TRY SHOOTING DEFENDANT
MINERS REFUSE TO WORK AFTER DEATH
CHEF PUTS HIS HEART INTO MEALS FOR NEEDY
DEVOUT NUN TELLS HOW POPE TOUCHED HER
OLD SECRETARY GIVES COLLECTORS A THRILL
CEO MAKES OFFER TO SCREW COMPANY SHAREHOLDERS
NFL ASKS PLAYERS TO DONATE BRAINS FOR RESEARCH
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who whiled away many halcyon hours on the rim of a newspaper copydesk writing his share of crash blossoms, phoned in this late-breaking bulletin for the final edition:
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
CONGRESSMAN CAUGHT IN COZY LOVE NEST!
If it’s in print, there’s no doubt about it.
COSTUME MALFUNCTION EXPOSES ONE BREAST!
Here is the news you really don’t need:
SUPER BOWL HERO IN MESSY DIVORCE!
Here is the news you’re dying to read:
TRANSVESTITE COPS ARE FOUND ON THE FORCE!
All of the news that’s not fit to print,
About matters medical, sordid, or phallic,
Takes on an air of importance by dint
OF NINETY-SIX-POINT GOTHIC CAPS, BOLD AND ITALIC!