innovations in headlinese

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Jan 25 22:02:28 UTC 2005

over on the newsgroup sci.lang, ron hardin (rnhardin at
posts about some innovative Washington Post headlines (possibly from
the same headline writer):
Re: To May
Date: Sun Jan 23 01:27:41 PST 2005

Ind. Fire Said May Take Days to Burn Out

Seepage Said Likely Didn't Cause Oil Spill
    LOS ANGELES - A mysterious oil spill that killed hundreds of birds
on the Southern
    California coast was probably not caused by natural seepage from
the ocean
    floor, investigators said.

these are of the form
   SUBJECT  said  VPfinite.

a follow-up misses the point (note hardin's header "To May") by citing
ordinary headlinese, of the form
understood as meaning something like 'SUBJECT is said to be
PREDICATIVE', that is as involving a passive of a Subject-to-Object
Raising (SOR) clause with a copular VP.
From: Bart Mathias <mathias at>
Re: To May
Date: Sun Jan 23 19:34:13 PST 2005

"Ind. Fire Said Difficult to Extinguish"
"Seepage Said Not Likely Cause of Oil Spill"

wouldn't have caught my attention. How different are they, really?

the innovative headlines look like a syntactic generalization from the
everday ones, which are pretty straightforwardly "telegraphic"; copular
"to be" is omitted.  in fact, they're two steps away from the everyday
ones.  ordinary headlinese doesn't allow the omission of "to" with
non-copular VPs in SOR passives:
     (1) Risk Said Increase With Age  'the risk is said to increase with
if things like this were possible, they'd be a source for extension to
finite VPs, as in
     (2) Risk Said Increases With Age
     (3) Risk Said Can Increase With Age.
but they're not possible, so the reanalysis of headlinese looks like it
was direct, with "said" in
     (4) Fire Said Difficult to Extinguish
(mis)taken to be a kind of reportive particle: 'it is said: Fire
Difficult to Extinguish'.  or more generally, "SUBJECT said XP" is
understood as something like 'it is said:
     (5) Risk Increases With Age
     (6) Risk Can Increase With Age
are perfectly fine headline clauses, headlines (2) and (3) are
licensed.  and so are the Washington Post examples.

note that this story depends on the headline writer(s) *not* treating
things like (4) as telegraphic.

arnold (zwicky at, wondering if verbs other than "said"
("reported", "claimed", "alleged", etc.) can go the same route

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