British Push Bottles Up German Rear

Carl Zimmer has an article entitled “Fossil Yields Surprise Kin of Crocodiles” in the New York Times:

Effigia20mediumScientists at the American Museum of Natural History have discovered a fossil in New Mexico that looks like a six-foot-long, two-legged dinosaur along the lines of a tyrannosaur or a velociraptor. But it is actually an ancient relative of today’s alligators and crocodiles.

The discovery is a striking example of how different animals can evolve the same kind of body over and over again.

For almost 60 years, the 210-million-year-old fossil has been hiding in plain sight. It was lodged in a slab of rock dug up in 1947 in New Mexico by a team led by Edward Colbert, a paleontologist at the museum.

More from the NYT here.  Benjamin Zimmer, Carl’s brother, has an interesting take on the title of Carl’s article and asks why the kin of crocodiles were so surprised? He writes in his blog, Language Log:

It’s a great example of the kind of ambiguous sentence that teachers of introductory syntax classes often present to their students (like the old standby, “I hate visiting relatives”). If this were a diagramming exercise in Syntax 101, the students would have to come up with phrase-structure trees to account for the structural ambiguity:


The ambiguous reading hinges on whether “yields” is understood as a noun or a verb. Once a reader decides to parse “yields” as a plural noun (with “fossil” understood as an attributive modifier), then the garden path has been established. The unusual headlinese of “surprise kin” further encourages the alternate parsing.

A similar ambiguous headline occasionally gets hauled out for the amusement of linguistics classes: “British Push Bottles Up German Rear.” Again, the key to the battling interpretations is whether a single word (in this case “push”) is parsed as a noun or a verb.

More from Benjamin here.  And last, Carl Zimmer also has a review of the Darwin show at the American Museum of Natural History in Discover Magazine:

ReviewsdarwindrawMounted on a carrot and a plum, two soldiers armed with swords and trumpets make war on one another. The Battle of the Fruit and Vegetable Soldiers is no ordinary child’s sketch. The artist was a young Francis Darwin, son of the celebrated Charles, and the drawing appears on the back of a manuscript page of his father’s most famous work, On the Origin of Species. Tucked away in a glass case in a corner of the American Museum of Natural History’s new Darwin exhibit, the page is one of only 28 to survive from the original manuscript of what many called “the book that shook the world.” It also succeeds in doing what all the fierce debates cannot. It shows Charles Darwin not as a figurehead in a great fight but as a real human and a devoted father, loath to waste paper, who gave his children discarded manuscript sheets to scribble upon.

Far from being an icon, Darwin was a man who led a dramatic life. He had adventures in exotic lands, fathered 10 children with his wife (and cousin), Emma Wedgwood, and conducted experiments on earthworms, barnacles, and insects (he once lay motionless on his couch to let a wasp drink from his eye).

More here.