The Compulsive Copyeditor

December 11, 2016

“Both” Abuse . . .

. . . committed in The New York Times:

“There are splits both within the intelligence agencies and the congressional committees that oversee them.”

“Both” splits a sentence into two streams that have to be equal and parallel. At first glance, either of the following would have been correct:

“There are splits within both the intelligence agencies and the congressional committees that oversee them.”

But no, that wouldn’t have worked because “both the intelligence agencies” can be misread as “You mean the CIA and the NSA?”

So the only correct option (short of rewriting the whole sentence), redundant as it may seem, is:

“There are splits both within the intelligence agencies and within the congressional committees that oversee them.”

Actually, I should refine the rule above:

“Both” splits a sentence into two streams that have to be equal and parallel. The split must be executed by a correctly placed “and.”

A family member of mine who committed this related form of “both” abuse in print—

“sharing their stories online was both an attempt to sort out what they were going through but also to . . . help other[s]”

graciously changed “but” to “and” after I apologized for being so pinheaded as to point it out.

Next, I’ll tackle “between” abuse, if I haven’t already. But I need to assemble some good examples. Like “both,” “between” requires “and,” and you wouldn’t believe the exotic substitutes writers come up with. (Yes, we are now allowed to end a sentence with a preposition, though some friends of mine who are made of sterner stuff still refrain and disapprove.) Scientists in particular seem prone to writing the likes of “Between 5 to 24 seconds . . .”

Stay tuned, fellow pinheads.

January 22, 2016

Usage Finds of the Month

“As I’ve eluded to above the three key advantages are . . .”  ~ Antibody Review Blog

“Love him or hate him, Trump is one of the most consistent people you will ever meet. He changes his political opinions over time, which is normal, but his patterns of behavior rarely seem to waiver.” ~ Scott Adams, The Dilbert Blog

Like “tow the line” and “pour over [the document],” these are symptoms of a culture that has become oral and visual rather than literate. What’s wrong with that, you ask? When the spelling of written English is so perverse that it selects for people with a genetic polymorphism that links the sound of a word to the precise look of it? What is the use of being able to master English spelling for conveying meaning? It communicates like a social code to other elite freaks, that’s all.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I’m one of those freaks, so I don’t want to just assume we’re right and those who can’t do this trick are wrong. I happen to love written English spelling because it’s a playground, or graveyard, of etymology. How words are spelled tells you not only the words’ root meaning but the language they came from (Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Latin, and French having all poured, ahem, into the brew that became English in the first place) and the way their ancestors were pronounced. “Through, thought, rough, dough, plough” send me into paroxysms of delight because I can image phlegmy Anglo-Saxons hawking them up. One doesn’t need to know that to write a blog post that gets its point across, but a language with amnesia for its antecedents is denuded of earth and depth.

 

January 9, 2016

Usage Find of the Day

From a purported “Dr. Oz” skin cream ad:

On his show he said he was thrilled when after months and months of pain staking tests and research, his team came across 2 products that when combined literally took 10 to 20 years off women?s appearance in just a month.

Ouch!

And while I’m at it . . . the new way of expressing enthusiastic agreement is, “Here, here!” That goes with “tow the line” and “pouring over” — signs of a culture that watches and listens far more than it reads.

November 17, 2015

Dangler for an Angler

The Coelacanth

“Thought to have been long extinct, scientists discovered these ‘living fossils’ in 1938.”

Coela

September 24, 2015

Dangler of the Day

“Destined to be called an instant classic, I could not put this stunning book down.” ~ Julie Klam, author of Friendkeeping and You Had Me at Woof, on Erica Jong’s new novel Fear of Dying.

Okay, in the spirit of “Call me a cab.” “You’re a cab,” I’ll fulfill her destiny: Julie, you’re an instant classic!

(I wonder if she did that in her books, and if there was anyone to catch it.)

April 25, 2015

Dangling Slowly in the Wind

All right, all right. I get the message:

Charged with involuntary manslaughter, a jury ultimately acquitted the film’s director, John Landis, of the charges.

It’s past time to tackle the issue of dangling participles, appositives, and what-have-you. The only reason I haven’t done it yet is that I actually don’t know the terminology. This is embarrassing and prevents me from being a certified expert. I live and breathe grammar, but I don’t really know what its parts are called. I can conjugate and decline with the best of them, but I can’t remember which is the operation you do on verbs and which on nouns. I know that a dangling participle is a phrase beginning with the -ed or -ing form of a verb that is not properly attached to the subject it’s meant to modify. But what’s a dangling appositive? Like the judge with the porn, I know it when I see it. I know it’s wrong, and I know why, but I don’t know it by name. I had to Google it. This is a dangling appositive:

A lawyer by training, her intelligence was keen, her commitment to health care reform and poverty unwavering.

Here’s another one:

Known for his sound character, military service, and political reforms, his passing came as a shock nationwide.

OK, millennials (my favorite straw man and woman, shorthand for the hapless victims of successive generations of progressive education, fading out like Xeroxes of Xeroxes), here’s a simple rule that will keep you from ever dangling a participle or an appositive again:

A participial or appositive phrase is like a baby duck: IT FOLLOWS THE FIRST THING IT SEES.

In the case of dangling participles, not knowing this rule often leads to unintentionally comical results, such as the above example of the jury charged with involuntary manslaughter, or yesterday’s example of the homeless men on their way to see Les Miz. The dangler simply attaches itself to the first thing it sees, like one of Konrad Lorenz‘s baby geese: [jeez, I had to copyedit the quote to make it fit for polite company!]

What he’s best known for and [what] led him to become internationally recognized was his classic experiment with newly hatched goslings (baby geese). For this experiment, Lorenz [divided] the eggs from the same goose into two randomly picked groups. Group A hatched in a natural environment and immediately began to follow mother goose around. Group B hatched in an incubator and the first living being they saw was Konrad Lorenz. So they immediately began to follow Mama Lorenz around… All the time.

In the case of the dangling appositive, the poor thing often has nothing to follow. The subject of the sentence has gone AWOL, and there’s no one to take its place. (In the above examples, you’d really have to work at the misreading “her intelligence was a lawyer by training” or “his passing was known for his sound character.”) The appositive just stands there, bewildered, like a teenager in a foreign train station, a follower without a leader and without marching orders. The grammar maven who provided the example also provides “one possible fix”:

A lawyer by training, she had a keen intelligence . . .

Or, in the second case,

Known for his sound character, military service, and political reforms, Beau Biden was mourned across a nation shocked by his passing.

In the opening example, the participial phrase can only be saved from the noose by a resort to the passive voice:

Charged with involuntary manslaughter, the film’s director, John Landis, was ultimately acquitted of the charges by a jury.

You might choose to rewrite those sentences differently But the point is, participial and appositive phrases both follow the very first thing they see when they turn the corner of the comma. So make sure it is what you want them to follow, the subject you intended them to describe. /sermon

April 24, 2015

Second Usage Find of the Same Day

Filed under: language degenerating,Usage Find of the Day — amba12 @ 8:48 pm

Is the collapse of Western civilization accelerating? I don’t even know what to call this:

We were the first group of kids who grew up with household computers, but still novel enough to elicit confusion and wonder.

The only thing I’ve ever seen to rival it was in a very long-ago Reader’s Digest, maybe as long ago as the late 1950s. They used to have collections of language mistakes that would leave me helpless with laughter. I’ve never forgotten this strike-slip fault of the mind:

He told me something one morning and out the other.

Usage Find of the Day

NEW YORK (PIX11) – Four Swedish police officers heading to a Broadway show found themselves in the middle of a New York City subway brawl, and decided to take a break from their vacation — stopping the fight and subduing both opponents.

While on their way to watch “Les Miserables,” two homeless men started fighting on an uptown 6 train in the middle of rush hour . . .

How appropriate that those homeless men were going to see “Les Miz”! They must have had to panhandle for months to buy the tickets, though.

April 14, 2015

Usage Find of the Day

Filed under: grammar,language degenerating,Usage Find of the Day — amba12 @ 7:59 pm

This is an almost endearing instance of millennial pathos:

You’re at the airport waiting to pass through security and board your flight. The security agent stops the person in line ahead of you: there was a full water bottle in his carry-on bag. He throws out the bottle and proceeds through the airport. Later that evening, you see that person’s face on the news, for having pulled out dynamite on their flight. Why did the TSA agent overlook the dynamite?

The writer has already made a choice to identify the gender of the offender: “he” threw out the water bottle in “his” carry-on bag. Yet the writer still feels obligated to go on and describe something this male person did on “their” flight.

Why??

What was it about this particular “his” that suddenly triggered the writer’s sexism-avoidance reflex when the earlier “he” and “his” did not? Or was it nothing so ideological, simply a belief that the correct third-person possessive is always “their”? But in either case, why didn’t “they” go back and change the other two instances? Whither consistency? Is this profound amnesia for the preceding sentence? Or just a visual culture’s assumption that language is some approximate wet sloppy stuff you throw handfuls of at content? Some generic substance you sell by weight?

February 13, 2015

Usage Finds of the Day

Filed under: Usage Find of the Day — amba12 @ 11:31 am

“Putin did, however, claim that he had pressurized the separatists to sign the agreement.”

~ David Patrikarakos on The Daily Beast

To sea level, I presume?

UPDATE: Followed in short order by this Daily Beast headline:

Scandalized Oregon Governor Resigns

It’s “IZE”day!

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