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I read a headline like the following in today's newspaper.

"Paying ransom a nonstarter in review of freeing captives"

I don't get it at all. Can somebody explain the structure of the sentence and its meaning?

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    It's a headline, and so, you probably should've copied in some of the relevant article so we can make a more educated guess. But, I think I can make a reasonable educated guess: In a review of what can be done to free captives, it is not a good idea to attempt to pay a ransom to free them. When we say something is a "non-starter", it often means that it is not an option, that it is not to be considered, that it can't be used to start a process, that it is not a good idea, etc. – F.E. Nov 20 '14 at 6:42
  • Oh, "nonstarter" is in some dictionaries, and there's a sense of meaning like: "informal: a person, plan, or idea that has no chance of succeeding or being effective." – F.E. Nov 20 '14 at 6:45
  • Let me reword that 1st comment of mine a bit: In a review of what can be done to free captives, it was determined that it is not a good idea to pay a ransom to free them. – F.E. Nov 20 '14 at 6:59
  • @F.E. My answer was based on that. Not in some, in many, the non-starter word means what I thought of while writing my answer. But anyway, I attempted to answer it so that I learn. And, my sentence whether to pay ransom to freeing captives should be reviewed first is okay, I think. – Maulik V Nov 21 '14 at 4:32
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As others have said, when you interpret headlines, you need to figure out what the missing words would be.

In this case, I'd expand the headline to:

Paying ransom would be a nonstarter in review of freeing captives

In other words, imagine a room full of people discussing strategy:

Ed: We want captives freed. What should we do?
Ted: Maybe we should pay the ransoms.
Ned: No, Ted, don't even go there. We're not even going to consider that.

If I was a reporter trying summarize that meeting, I might say:

Paying ransom a nonstarter in review of freeing captives


Another way the headline could be expanded is by adding an is:

Paying ransom is a nonstarter in review of freeing captives

This would align nicely with the definition of the word found in Collins:

non-starter (n.) a worthless idea

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