Attention New York Times Headline Writers: Don't Sacrifice Grammar for Cuteness

A guest post from Paul Stregevsky.

As a stickler for clear antecedents, I fault this headline, from the New York Times: "Iowa, the Early Decider, Still Hasn't."

I would even fault, "Iowa, the Earliest State to Decide, Still Hasn't." Still hasn't decide? Um, no. There is but one legitimate antecedent: "decided." And since readers would find it awkward to read "Iowa, the Earliest State to Have Decided, Still Hasn't," the headline writer must abandon the conceit and try again.

Mind you, I oppose constructions like this one not because they're illogical (though they are), but because they force readers to mentally correct the grammatical error.

Addendum: Actually, this could work: "Iowa, the Early State to Decide, Still Can't."

Addendum (1/4/2012): I e-mailed this post to Philip Corbett, the Times's associate managing editor for standards who writes the After Deadline blog. He's given me permission to publish his reply:

I agree in general that headlines should be grammatical. But given the constraints of the form, I think it's reasonable on occasion to expect the reader to make a bit more of a syntactical leap than might be demanded in other contexts. (Here, I suspect the headline writer was also alluding to President Bush's famous description of himself as "the decider," another argument for allowing the construction.)

What do you think?

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