1

"Fascist X" said a lawyer and sent to jail for insulting him.

There has been some discussion about this headline's structure. Since I intended to put the quoted speech in front of the sentence, I built it accordingly. However, too many people (especially native English speakers) objected to it by saying "that doesn't sound correct" without giving any grammatical explanations whatsoever.

So, What is wrong with that headline?

According to these resources, sentence's structure is correct:

I know there are better ways to build that sentence, but what is grammatically incorrect in it that leads native English speakers to find it incorrect?

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    I don't understand the meaning of "said a lawyer". If it were a headline I'd expect something short and sweet like 'man insults lawyer, sent to jail' – Brandin Apr 22 '15 at 11:57
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    The headline is not ambiguous. The headline is nonsense. There are no two competing meanings. There is no meaning at all. – RegDwigнt Apr 22 '15 at 12:07
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    Lawyer says "Fascist X" and is sent to jail works fine. But "Fascist X", says lawyer, and is sent to jail doesn't. Inversion doesn't work if you only invert one of two verbs. – Peter Shor Apr 22 '15 at 12:09
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    There are three things wrong with it. You can't use inversion because lawyer is the subject of a second verb. And you can't use a pronoun to reference an antecedent that is in quotes. And it's not good to drop the auxiliary verb in this parallel construction. Putting them together, you get a headline that is very difficult to decipher. – Peter Shor Apr 22 '15 at 12:13
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    My suggested headline would be Lawyer sent to jail for saying "Fascist X". I wouldn't worry about mentioning that it was insulting - that should be obvious, and a headline should be short. – AndyT Apr 22 '15 at 12:14
4

This type of construction only works when the subject of the headline sentence does not change or invert.

Politician challenged by court, retracts statement
Cat climbs tree and can't get down

This can also be done with an inverted passive sentence.

Case dismissed, dropped by plaintiff
Park renovated and now reopened

Combining the two in the same sentence causes too many problems of understanding what the subject is. And it creates, as was pointed out by your original detractors, a construction which "doesn't sound correct."

My fix, which keeps the focus on the details that seem important to you (with whatever verb intensity you prefer):

"Fascist X" insult lands lawyer in jail

1

In terms of dropping the auxiliary verb: "Lawyer sent to jail" works, but "[...] a lawyer and sent to jail" doesn't work. I think it's because you can drop the auxiliary verb if there's only one clause, but you can't drop it in a sub-clause. (In your proposed headline, the main clause is "Fascist X" said a lawyer, with and was sent to jail for insulting him is a sub-clause.)

"him" doesn't work, because there is nothing to tell us who "him" refers to.

  • X is there a very well known president of a country, so him refers to that x. – Özgür Apr 22 '15 at 12:00
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    "Who" is clearly "X". But you can't use a pronoun to reference an antecedent in a quote. *Roger said "I hate John", because he had stolen Roger's candy, doesn't work either. But Roger said he hated John because he had stolen Roger's candy works fine. – Peter Shor Apr 22 '15 at 12:01
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    This is basically on the mark. When you say "the lawyer said and sent", the reader is forced to parse that as "the lawyer did both the saying and the sending", while in reality the lawyer was the subject of one action, but the object of the other. You are willingly creating a syllepsis. And so a syllepsis you get. – RegDwigнt Apr 22 '15 at 12:04
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Calls would be better than says. In some jurisdictions, you can be held liable for slander or defamation of character when you engage in certain kinds of "name-calling".

You cannot switch from active voice to passive as you did (says...sent) with a mere "and". You must say "is sent".

Brevity can be achieved in a number of ways there:

Lawyer jailed for calling Mr X "fascist"

Jail awaits lawyer: called Mr X "fascist"

Lawyer jailed for defamation; called Mr X "fascist"

Mr X vindicated; lawyer gets jail sentence

Notice that where I switch in the penultimate sentence from passive to active there's a semi-colon; the semi-colon could not be replaced with "and". But in the final sentence, both are passive, and the semi-colon could indeed be replaced with "and".

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"Fascist X" said a lawyer and sent to jail for insulting him.

First of all, this doesn't sound as a headline.

  1. As a normal sentence, not a headline:

The sentence is poor, as there's ambiguity as to the subject for the 2nd part.

The "and" confuses things. This could be understandable as:

"Fascist X," said a lawyer and was sent to jail for insulting him.

The comma is mandatory when you report speech this way.

Or:

"Fascist X," said a lawyer. Sent to jail for insulting him.

  1. Now, in headline style, one could have:

Lawyer Saying "Fascist X" Sent to Jail for Insulting

Lawyer Says "Fascist X"; Sent to Jail for Insulting

Lawyer Says "Fascist X" - Sent to Jail for Insulting

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    I wouldn't say the comma was mandatory in a headline. I wouldn't expect a headline to be a grammatically correct sentence. – AndyT Apr 22 '15 at 12:17
  • @AndyT Sorry, wasn't talking about a headline there. Anyway, edited for clarity. Thanks. – Marius Hancu Apr 22 '15 at 12:27

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