This just in, from Associated Press, no less. Shame on them! The guilty passage is in an article about the closing of the Borders bookstore chain.
Justin Grant, 31, from Brooklyn, however, was less phased. Although he had just picked up a parenting book to read on his commute home Monday, he said he buys most of the 25 to 30 books he reads a year on Amazon.
Phased!?! They want fazed! “Phase” has to do with things like sine waves and light waves, and how the peaks and valleys of the waves match. “Faze” means to be stunned, disconcerted. Someone who doesn’t care what others think is not likely to be fazed by their insults. Perhaps, because both homonyms are real words, (ahem) someone relied too heavily on their spell checker. I’d rather have that, bad as it is, than have a professional writer and editor not know the difference between phase and faze.
Now to give good old Associated Press credit where credit is due, in the caption to one of their photographs to accompany the article, they did get something right. I quote their caption with the photo:
Note their apostrophe in “consumers’. ” (The bold is mine.) Plural possesive, which a lot of folks are afraid to get right. They got it right.
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The rule of thumb in English is that modifiers go next to what they modify. Try not to put anything in between. Here’s an example of doing it wrong:
President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, lauding his “extraordinary heroism” during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday that marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.
This is from a recent news article in the Los Angeles Times. Let’s follow our rule. When did this soldier’s extraordinary heroism take place? The sentence says it took place during a White House ceremony! (Insert presidential political joke here.) Let’s rewrite the sentence so it doesn’t cause unintended humor:
President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday, lauding his “extraordinary heroism” that marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.
It’s still not quite right. What does that final clause, about being the second time, go with? It goes with the awarding, way up at the front of the sentence. There’s no graceful way to put this clause up there, So we make a new sentence. Rule of thumb number two: It’s okay to use two simple sentences instead of one long, complicated, ungraceful one.
President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, lauding his “extraordinary heroism” during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday. The award marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.
There. Sentences that befit a sitting president and a war hero, regardless of your politics.
Only maybe it isn’t funny. This was gleaned from a site called lamebook.com from a writer I highly respect, Fred Langa, on his blog What Comes Next.
A couple posts back I wrote about the two most basic verbs in English, pointing out that some form of “do” can replace any action verb. I also said that you should avoid using the verb do itself, but here’s an example of using it that’s okay.
Our quote today, class, is from the July 2011 issue of Scientific American. This issue is particularly interesting to me—it’s the first issue I recall having a centerfold, and it’s hanging on the wall in my room. (Don’t get your hopes up, guys. It’s a poster of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (look it up), which turns 100 this year.)
Back to grammar. We find our quote on page 55 near the bottom:
It will be an uphill battle in a country that reveres an individual’s right to choose much more than it does science.
The verbs in the parallel construction are “reveres” and “does.” You can get up in front of the room and revere (something). This is approximately what cheerleaders do at a high school pep rally. And you can replace “does” with “reveres,” which makes the sentence end with “…than it reveres science.” Go back and read the sentence with “reveres” in there both times. That’s exactly what the sentence is saying.
Why did the writer (Sharon Begley, a top-notch science writer) not use the more specific verb in the second part of the parallelism? In English we usually consider it poor form to repeat a word. Repeating something exactly without enough distance between the repeated words feels patronizing. The writer didn’t want to patronize her readers (after all, this is a Scientific American article), so she let the reader figure out what she was saying.
Finally, I must issue a warning. In technical writing, use the more specific verb both times. Yes, it’s not as smooth, but it removes ambiguity, the bane of technical writing. In tech writing, you want to leave absolutely no question about your meaning, and you may sacrifice smoothness to do so. Take our example sentence. The words “…does science” is a construction you sometimes see, “do science, doing science, to do science.” That is definitely not the meaning in our example sentence.
Next post: I might have some more grammar humor.
And no, the joke is not that those are really shamrocks on her grave. I saw this in the comic Rubes, by Leigh Rubin. The link to his comics is here: http://www.creators.com/comics/rubes.html, and I recommend subscribing to the RSS feed. Here’s a link to his bio: http://www.creators.com/comics/rubes-about.html.