Morning Snip:
Days From Death

Double Dangler: “Days from death, Fla. wildlife officials free plastic jar that was stuck on bear cub’s head.” At Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum pretends to scratch his head:

Who was just days from death? Well, this is a headline, so we have no prior context, so we don’t initially know. But we see that someone is days from death, and the comma tells us that this is an adjunct introducing a clause that is almost certainly going to tell us, so we read on, and we hit the main clause subject: Florida wildlife officials. We are all mortal, and some day every Florida wildlife official must prepare to meet the Creator of all wildlife, so it is the most natural thing in the world to take them as the target of predication that we need, and we fill it in: we understand (for a split second) that some Florida wildlife officials were just days from death. So now, what did they do?

And at that point we learn that they freed a plastic jar. Even though they were dying. The story is getting stranger and stranger. Next we learn that the jar was freed from the embarrassing predicament of being stuck on a young bear’s head. Still not a lot of sense to any of it. But we read on, and finally we encounter the explanatory sentence: “Biologists say the cub was days away from death because the jar made it impossible to eat or drink.” OK, puzzlement over. The cub was just days from death, the jar was on the cub’s head, the wildlife officials are fine, they freed the cub from its jar-imprisonment by freeing the jar from its bear-attachment, everything is now clear.

(via Felix Salmon)