The Compulsive Copyeditor

May 25, 2010

A Mnemonic You Won’t Forget [UPDATED]

Filed under: grammar,language degenerating — amba12 @ 9:52 am

I often find myself struggling to explain to editing clients why it is wrong to dangle a participle.  I think I may have found an example that will do the job once and for all.  At least, it will get their attention.  It’s from a review of a new biography of E.M. Forster, that focuses on his (homo)sexual life now that his exhaustive documentation of it has come to light.

“So great and honest a writer and so humane a man” is Moffat’s judgment of Forster. One wants to believe her, though Forster emerges from this book a figure at once more complete and somewhat diminished — the price of full-to-overflowing disclosure. Though he may have chosen to record them, there are things about him that we never needed to know. For instance: “Riding in a carriage one afternoon, the mere thought that his wrist might brush the arm of the young Indian beside him made Morgan ejaculate into his trousers.” (The squeamish may here wince less at Morgan’s hair-trigger sensibilities than at the failure of Moffat’s introductory participle to brush its intended noun.)

UPDATE: I’ve had a request to edit the offending sentence.  Here goes, Ruth Anne:

As he rode in a carriage one afternoon, the mere thought that his wrist might brush the arm of the young Indian beside him made Morgan ejaculate into his trousers.

OR

One afternoon, the mere thought that his wrist might brush the arm of the young Indian riding in a carriage beside him made Morgan ejaculate into his trousers.

I’m sure there are more and better variations (have at it!), but by now poor Morgan is spent.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] The story of a carriage ride with E. M. Forster demonstrates that participles, at least, should not be left dangling. […]

    Pingback by dustbury.com » Dripping with grammatical rectitude — May 27, 2010 @ 8:00 am | Reply


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