“Syntactically ambiguous” news headlines

A syntactically ambiguous headline:

Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years

syntax: the way words are put together in a language to form phrases, clauses, or sentences. “Syntactically” is the adverb form of syntax.
Source:
SIL International

ambiguous: open to or having several possible interpretations
Source:
Dictionary.com

The phrase “syntactically ambiguous” means that a sentence or expression is ambiguous because of its syntax. Change the order of the words, and the ambiguity is resolved.

e.g.:

Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Axe” could mean one of two things:

  1. An enraged cow used an axe to attack a farmer.
  2. An enraged cow attacked a farmer who was holding an axe.

Unless the axe is critical to the story, I would fix this headline by striking the last two words:

Enraged Cow Injures Farmer

EXERCISE: Syntactically ambiguous headlines

Created by Bucknell University’s Department of Linguistics, Culture, and Languages.

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