2 Killed at Football Game
. . . someone used to reading newspapers assumes that two people were killed, as opposed to two people doing some killing. Shake things up a little, however, and that understanding gets muddled.
Security Fears Rise After 2 Killed at Football Game
Does that sound odd to you? It sure does to me. The articulation of the rule (if you can call it that) is sparse, but the Washington Post stylebook explains:
Auxiliary verbs and forms of the verb to be may usually be omitted, but they are required in the progressive and after says.Says usually is the culprit when a helping-verb omission goes wrong -- this strikes me as just as bad as the last example:
Police Say 2 Killed at Football Game
Somehow the implied were or are is clear in the first example, but I find myself asking "Two killed whom?" when I read the second and third, in which the "are" (or "were") seems much more nakedly missing. Why? I'm not sure. I guess the convention goes only so far.
Is all this hopelessly arcane? Am I elevating a custom, a nicety, to the level of a must-be-remedied ambiguity? I don't think so, but I'm curious to hear how widely observed this distinction is. In my experience, it's one of those "If you don't get it, you don't get it" concepts, something difficult to teach even to some experienced and excellent headline writers. Sometimes I explain the idea and an associate responds by using the helping verb whenever it's possible to use a helping verb -- the problem is solved, even if the point is missed.