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Associated Press freaks out world with tweet about plane landing

Check out how easy it is to extract two meanings from this Associated Press tweet:

Moments later, the wire service issued this tweet:

Twitter ate it up:

Many folks out there saw a failure of punctuation. An example:

Yet this is not comma territory. That is to say, this is not a grammatically proper construction: “Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash, lands in Eindhoven.”

This is merely an example of really unfortunate and ambiguous word adjacency. Highly preventable, too: All you need to do is read the sentence to understand how it could convulse newsrooms and news consumers across the world.

Though the AP showed rotten judgment in releasing this jarring tweet, it’s on firm ground grammatically. As Merriam-Webster makes clear, for a plane to “crash-land,” there would need to be a hyphen between “crash” and “land.” The AP included no such punctuation mark.

UPDATE 11:45: The AP has issued a mea culpa, saying, “This was an especially regrettable lapse that drew wide attention as Dutch families awaited the return of their loved ones’ remains.”

UPDATE 12:00: We’ve swapped out a screenshot of Merriam Webster’s definition of “crash-land” for the comparable screenshot from Webster’s New World dictionary, which is the AP’s home-base dictionary.