Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good for a Laugh

As everyone at SFA is getting ready for a five-day weekend, I want to send you home with a linguistic jewel straight from the headlines:

I can't take credit for this Leno-worthy headline. Thank you to SPOGG for finding and posting such a headline.

English is a great language for humorous headlines because of its ability to flout ambiguity. The ambiguity in the headline above is one caused by the word package, which as you all undoubtedly know has more than one meaning (and the intended meaning is not the first one we English speakers tend to think of). That type of ambiguity is semantic (or lexical) ambiguity--it is ambiguous because a word/phrase has more than one meaning.

Sometimes, though, sentences (or headlines) are ambiguous because the structure is ambiguous: "Children Cook & Serve Grandparents" (this was a headline featured on Jay Leno). The ambiguity starts with the verb cook, which could take a direct object (I cooked the turkey) or could appear as an intransitive verb (I cooked). The ambiguity then continues with the verb serve, which could take an object that is being served (I served the turkey to my guests) or could take an object indicating the servees (I served the guests). When you put the two together, it's literally a recipe for disaster for a headline.

Another famous ambiguous headline is from WWII: "The Fifth Army Push Bottles Up Germans." What kind of ambiguity do you think that is?

As you're on a break, peruse newspapers and send me any fun headlines you find--I'll feature them in a blog posting.

1 comment:

  1. Structural ambiguity was my favorite professor's forte! He recently finished a book about it: