Frances Glessner Lee created miniature death scenes to train investigators in the 1940s

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There was an exhibition of these a few years ago in DC. Really fascinating.


I believe their permanent home is in Baltimore.


In this headline, the word “train” is the verb meaning to instruct or educate. It is not the word “train” the noun meaning a locomotive pulling cars. That clears up both of my concerns, namely:

  1. There is something weird about the grammar of the headline
  2. Were there a lot of murders on trains?!?

Tch! Nothing weird. I’ve just told you** you can be mistaken in use of English.

Had the preposition been ‘for’, not ‘to’, then lots of murders on trains might have been a reasonable suspicion. But it’s ‘to’, so for ‘train’ to be a noun, not a verb, would require a verb to exist between ‘to’ and ‘train’.

Or maybe you were suffering an optical illusion along the lines of…

… and thought the headline was ‘death scenes to train train investigators’?

(**Too juicy to resist. Sorry) :wink:

Also, wasn’t a series of miniature death rooms like this an integral part of a series of CSI episodes?

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The point of my sentences before the numbered list was to negate the numbered list. It says: “That clears up both of my concerns”. The points in the numbered list are not ones I’m asserting.

But I can’t really just let this sit. “To” has different meanings. The “order” in “made to order” is a noun not a verb. It could also be made to specification. I’m not saying I find the phrase “created to train investigator” to be a cogent one. That’s why I found it confusing until I realized how they were using the word “train”.

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Getting too far off topic, now, because “still my mind goes wandering”.

I got that. But I saw zero ambiguity to be concerned about.

Just chewing the fat over this, for fun - no personal grammatical or comprehension deficiencies implied or intended…

So you found it non-cogent? Interesting. My analysis is that the use of ‘train’ and immediate lack of any other verb after ‘to’ in this context told my brain in a fraction of a picosecond that it was ‘train’ as a verb and not a noun, and made it immediately cogent.

But ‘create’ does the heavy work here, and signals - a couple of picoseconds before the brain gets to ‘to’ - that ‘train’ must be a verb here, because…

…according to context. In the headline’s context, the verb ‘created’ tells me, instinctively, what function ‘to’ has here. Had ‘created’ been a different verb, e.g. ‘sent’ then the meaning of ‘to’ might have been ambiguous, as you imply.

She ‘createdsent miniature death scenes to train investigators’ could mean ‘train’ as either a verb or noun, for sure, in the absence of other context. Other qualifiers, or what precedes or follows it, would dictate the actual meaning, and care to avoid ambiguity would indicate to the speaker that some qualifier or context is needed.

Create would not typically be used with ‘to A NOUN’. One does not typically create something to a real noun. One creates something for VERBING… or creates to A VERB. But a coach and horses could be drive through that with an abstract noun. E.g. ‘the thing was created to meet the specifications’ might be expressed as ‘the thing was created to specification’.

Which brings us to ‘order’

Of course - where ‘made to order’ IS being used in the ‘made to specification’ sense, it is because ‘order’ IS being used as a noun. But elsewhere it’s meaning in context depends on what precedes/follows it.

Is it an adjectival term (needing hyphenation)? So the made-to-order thing was made to order for the maker’s client.

Or perhaps the made-to-order robot was made to order such that it could be made to order the the other robots to kill themselves. :wink:

But I’m sure counter-examples to all my statements might be found. Ain’t English fun! Especially where it exercises the art and science of the expert headline writer.

(And I need to get back to reality - too much whimsical mind-wandering musing for this time of day.)

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They remind me of the miniature sets in Sleuth; perhaps they were an inspiration for the production design?

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I might create a ferry to an island. Perhaps the miniature death scene is a pathway to the people who investigate trains?

I guess I’m confused. We know that I misread the verb “train” as the noun “train” and so therefore I found the structure of the headline odd and the meaning obscure. It’s clear the word “train” is supposed to be read as a verb and when you read it as a verb the structure is ordinary and the meaning is clear. All I was trying to say is that if you get the word “train” wrong in the way I did then grammatical high jinks ensue.

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Indeed. Despite no reason to think anyone should care, I hope I explained why ‘created’ did the work to avoid that - for me, at least.

Really? I would not. I would take or catch a ferry to an island or create a ferry for getting to an island. But I spent half my career editing and writing English such that it would be utterly unambiguous for people whose first reading language was not English. It’s amazing how many good English writers would write things that WERE ambiguous and could have been better written if they’d stopped to think about their audience for two seconds.

That’s also the task of the headline writer.

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Maybe you can disput “ferry” but surely after a snowfall you’d get your shovel and make a path to the sidewalk? Or build a bridge to an island?

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Of course. No dispute. But in both your examples the use of an article (definite or indefinite) does lot of signalling, too.

If I made a ‘path to sidewalk’ or ‘bridge to island’ then I’d expect sidewalk and island to be verbs - which obviously would in turn need an object. They’re not verbs so ‘build a bridge to island the object being a noun I want to connect with a bridge’ makes no sense.

Apparently Disqus dislikes us replying to each other so many times and I need to ‘encourage everyone to get involved in the conversation’. Probably best not, I suspect.

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The article isn’t doing that work. I can’t talk about “sidewalk” in any context, it always has to be “a sidewalk” or “sidewalks”. I don’t need an article to build a bridge to Detroit. And I don’t need an article to build a stairway to heaven or an elevator to space (it took me a while to think of space, I can’t think of another example of an uncountable noun with a definite location; I did think of using an example where I might refer to my path through the snow as a “path to fries” because I shovelled it for the purpose of getting to the restaurant to buy fries, which is something an English speaker might well say, but it would be at least a bit jocular, I think).

What’s happened is I’m not using “to” to relate to the verb at all but instead I’m using it to start an adjective phrase modifying the noun. I don’t [create a bridge] to Detroit. I create a [bridge to Detroit]. After I’m done making the thing, I’m going to call it the “bridge to Detroit”.

In create a path to the sidewalk I’m less clear on whether “to the sidewalk” is an adjective phrase modifying the path or whether it is the direction that the verb “make” takes because in that context creating is actually a thing I’m doing in a direction.

Of course, “to locomotive investigators” is an awfully weird adjective phrase to append to “miniature death scenes”. But again, it’s English, so God only knows what someone might mean.

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You know what sucks? This conversation is fascinating, but the headline has been corrected, so I am lost. What was the original grammatically incorrect headline?

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There was none, I just had a crazy reading of the headline where I read the word “train” as being a locomotive instead of the action of educating people. The incorrect headline only ever existed in my head.


Frances Glessner Lee created miniature death scenes to locomotive investigators in the 1940s

Fixed it.


Good question. Could be either - or both, in practice.

What on earth were we talking about? :wink:

I’ll help with quick reply to get Disquss off your back :wink:

I had the same issue with this sentence. I don’t know why.

Writers of headlines usually have no concerns for readability, they mostly care about clickbaiting and you do that by cramming a entire story in a minimal amount of words. My expectations for headlines are low, I expect hard to understand, convoluted sentences. Maybe that is why I didn’t see the obvious meaning.

“Gil Grissom” in CSI was also into such miniatures:


I see, so

Locomotive engineers trained a miniature Frances Glessner Lee to investigate 1940s death scenes on trains.

I get it.