An answer introduced me to the concept of crash blossoms. In the linked examples there is one I cannot process:

Girl found alive in France murders car
—BBC News, September 2012

The explanation mentions that "France murders" mean "a streak of murders in France" (I get that) and that now the meaning is clear :)

Well, not for me.

I can understand

Girl found alive in France murders car

or some combinations where "France murders" gives some context (say, "Girl found alive in car, thought to be part of France murders") but I cannot grok "Girl found alive in France murders car" which sounds to me like "correct horse battery staple"

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    It sounds like you've properly parsed the sentence. The girl was found alive in a car - a car linked to murders in France. Your rephrasing of "Girl found alive in car, thought to be part of France murders" is exactly correct. What's the confusion? Commented Jan 19 at 13:55
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    It's not wrong, it's just that the noun phrase "France murders car" is very easily misread. It's still a grammatically correct noun phrase, and used appropriately where any other noun or noun phrase could be. The girl could be found alive in a house, in an Italian restaurant, or in the "France murders car". Commented Jan 19 at 14:27
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    @NuclearHoagie I disagree that "France murders car" is a valid noun phrase. "French murders car" could be, possibly, and "French murder-car" would be wildly better -- but "France murders" is not grammatical. You can't use France as an attributive noun because it already has a separate adjectival form. Commented Jan 19 at 22:21
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    As a native english speaker, I had to read the answers to understand the headine. You're not alone, and this headline is badly written.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jan 20 at 1:16
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    I'm French and I vividly remember a horrible news about murders in a car in France and a girl found alive many hours after the scene had been secured and forensics had been brought in to examine the car. If this is the story you refer to, then that car could indeed be called a "France murders car".
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 20 at 16:50

3 Answers 3


The article Girl in France murders car, crash blossoms explains the meaning:

A 2012 BBC news story confused many when it led with the headline, “Girl found alive in France murders car.” To help you understand what actually happened here, let’s look at a CNN headline about the same story: “France shootings: Girl hid under bodies in car.” What happened here is that a woman [sic] was found alive among deceased bodies inside a car that was connected to a string of murders in France.

(Note: She was only four years old, not an adult woman.)

The actual grammar here is that "France murders car" is two noun adjuncts modifying another noun ("car"). See "China balloon" for an example using a noun instead of the usual demonym adjective. The purpose of the plural "murders" seems to be to emphasize that there were multiple; this would seem to fall under "a topical issue comes forth, often in newspaper stories".

Here's a similar example: Idaho murders house being demolished despite objections from some family members

  • So the car belonged to the murderer (who did several murders)?
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 19 at 14:05
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    @WoJ It could have been owned by them or a victim, stolen, or even borrowed; you'd have to read the article to figure that out. It's merely indicating the car is associated with the murders. In the case of the "Idaho murders house" that was the place the victims were renting where they were murdered.
    – Laurel
    Commented Jan 19 at 14:19
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    @WoJ The headline implies that the murders occurred in France, and that the car was somehow connected to the murders. It doesn't suggest much about the timeframe of the murders (whether it was one multiple murder or a series of events), or necessarily that the car was nearby at the time of the murders. It could refer to murders that occurred in the car, or to a serial killer who merely travels from town to town in the car leaving forensic evidence behind. A "France murders car" means only that the car has some unspecified connection to murders that occurred in France. Commented Jan 19 at 16:19
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    "France-murders car" is such a bizarre bit of wording that I can hardly call this a crash blossom. It's just a nonsense headline even if you know what they were trying to say. Commented Jan 19 at 22:11
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    @WoJ also, if you would take it, another possible parsing is: "Girl, who was found alive in France, murders a car", which doesn't make sense, but syntactically still plausible.
    – justhalf
    Commented Jan 20 at 7:23

"The car that was associated with the murders in France". IIRC the parents were found murdered in or near their car, with their little girl still alive because she was hiding.

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    I understand what the sentence is supposed to mean - it is just that I do not understand how it may be a crash blossom. To me, it is just grammatically incorrect.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 19 at 13:56
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    "A girl, who was found alive in France, murders a car" is the other possible, though unlikely, interpretation. Commented Jan 19 at 16:04
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    'Headlinese' often isn't grammatically correct; it's a kind of 'shorthand'. Commented Jan 19 at 16:28
  • Yes, reading "murders" as a verb instead of an adjective is the obvious mistaken reading.
    – BradC
    Commented Jan 19 at 22:43
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    @KateBunting : And that it's hard to understand can be a deliberate feature: the reader is then incentivized to read the article. If the title was easy to understand, the reader might feel that all interesting information was gained and then skip reading the article. If the title is confusing, one might be more willing to read the article to know what exactly was going in.
    – vsz
    Commented Jan 20 at 15:33

"France" is being used as a noun adjunct to modify "murders" to refer to a specific set of murders. Then the phrase "France murders" is itself being used as a noun adjunct to modify the word "car". The car is being identified as being in some way associated with the murders. Another example of this use is "Manson murder house": "Manson murder" refers to a murder associated with Charles Manson, and "Manson murder house" refers to the house that the murder occurred in. You could also say "D.B. Cooper hijacking airplane" to refer to the airplane that was hijacked by D.B. Cooper.

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