Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ambiguous Sentence


This Straits Times (9 October 2008) headline, though perfectly grammatical, amused me because I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that the writer meant he spotted a very young insect (e.g. baby fly vs adult fly). This interpretation has the noun phrase a toddler fly, with a as determiner, fly as head noun, and toddler as noun premodifier.

The intended meaning was, of course, that the writer saw a toddler go up in the air when turbulence hit the Singapore–Perth flight. Here, the noun phrase is a toddler, and fly is a non-finite verb.

6 comments:

lapleinelune said...

That is truly ambiguous and cracked me up too! In fact, you can even visualize a toddler flying in the air! In the sky, Is that.. a bird, a plane.. or Ooooh a toddler!?!?! (;Poonam

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Haha, yes, he really meant a flying toddler.

M.Vanan said...

Yeah, it seems like the headline was to entice people read the article with the expense of using a "ambiguous" word like fly, like although the toddler had some supernatural power to fly. I guess the readers migth have been disappointed after reading that the toddler had no supernatural power.

M.Vanan said...

Yeah, it seems like the headline was to entice people read the article with the expense of using an "ambiguous" word like fly, like although the toddler had some supernatural power. I guess the readers might have been utterly disappointed after reading that the toddler had no supernatural power. (Vanan)

Anonymous said...

I was originally thinking of a toddler having supernatural powers, until I read on and found out what had actually happened..

I would say this is a rather catchy headline, but the impact of the news may be lost due to its amusing phrasing..

The Grammar Terrorist said...

I'd REALLY like to see a toddler fly ...