Rocks the size of analogies

A newspaper website headline in Australia says that the volcano in Hawaii is spewing rocks the size of microwaves. How big (or small) is that? 1 metre to 1 millimetre. A one-millimetre rock is not a rock. The first paragraph of the story then says ‘boulders the size of small cars’, which are presumably the size of radio waves.

That said, I wouldn’t want to be landed on by a one-metre rock spewed from a volcano.

[update 27 May: I saw a headline from a US paper which referred to ‘fridge-sized boulders’, so maybe the Australian headline referred to microwave ovens, not microwave radiation. There’s a difference in size between a microwave oven, a fridge and a small car.]

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“Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea”

For some years there was a free commuter newspaper on Sydney’s and Melbourne’s trains, generally focusing on lighter news and popular culture rather than incisive journalism. Each day of the 2012 summer olympics in London, it published a medal table and stories of interest. After several days of competition, South and North Korea were fourth and fifth on the medal table. The paper named them “Nice Korea” and “Naughty Korea” respectively. The (North) Korean Central News Agency was not impressed, issuing a statement accusing the paper of “a bullying act little short of insulting the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and progress and politicising sports”. (I think there should be a comma after progress”.) It went on, seemingly without irony, “Media are obliged to lead the public in today’s highly-civilised world where [the] mental and cultural level of mankind is being displayed at the highest level”. Including, presumably, the (North) Korean Central News Agency. It might have been worse; they might have referred to them as “nasty Korea”.

On Thursday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea held a military parade. Last night, the Republic of Korean hosted the opening ceremony of the winter olympic games. Take your pick.

CARDINAL PELL CHARGES

Today’s headline ambiguity is brought to you by the letter S. S has three major roles in English – marking plural nouns (the intended reading of this headline), 3rd person present simple verbs (the unintended reading of this headline) and (with an apostrophe) possession.

The intended reading is a noun phrase with a noun phrase modifier and a plural noun. The unintended reading is a clause with a noun phrase and a verb. The unintended reading gains strength by being standard English, while the intended reading is acceptable headlinese but not standard English. In standard English, we would have to talk about ‘Cardinal Pell’s charges’ (that is, the charges against him, not belonging to him).

Either way, the ambiguity continues because charge has multiple meanings both as a noun and a verb.

(Note: I am not commenting on the justice or injustice of the charges, or on His Eminence’s innocence or guilt. I am commenting on the linguistic ambiguity of the headline.)