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'Says' isn't a magic headline word

T
he stylebook of my employer, The Washington Post, contains a nice entry on a headline rule that I hold dear: You can omit the helping verb only in the main verb of a headline. Even at The Post, however, this rule isn't always followed. Here's an example (not from The Post):
Gingrich says bill unfair
That's by no means the worst error you can commit, but it just isn't right. You can't "say x unfair." You can call x unfair, you can label x unfair, you can even proclaim x unfair, but the word "say" wasn't built to work that way. You can get around the problem; the following alternatives are perfectly acceptable:
Bill unfair, Gingrich says

Gingrich says bill is unfair

This isn't an easy concept to explain. Half of you are probably nodding in agreement because it's such an obvious point, while the other half are thinking, "What is he talking about?" If you don't get it, you don't get it.

Here's how the Post stylebook puts it:

Auxiliary verbs and forms of the verb to be may usually be omitted, but they are required in the progressive and after says:

ACCEPTABLE:
Budget Deficit Intolerable, Candidate Says
Candidate Calls Budget Deficit Intolerable
Driver Held Blameless in Beltway Crash

UNACCEPTABLE:
Candidate Says Budget Deficit Intolerable
Budget Deficit Said Intolerable
Driver Said Blameless in Beltway Crash

Says isn't always the culprit. Here's another example:
4 Americans
Shot Dead
In Pakistan
Oil Company Workers
Gunned Down 2 Days
After Kasi Convicted
Note the secondary headline (the "bank hed" at The Post, the "deck" at the Washington Times, the "subhed" at some other papers): After Kasi convicted whom? You simply cannot assume the reader will fill in the was or is for anything but the main verb. Possible alternatives, in this case:
Oil Company Workers
Killed 2 Days After
Kasi Was Convicted

Oil Company Workers
Gunned Down 2 Days
After Kasi Conviction


Now what?

Move on to 'IT IS I,' SAID THE FULLBACK

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