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