Wednesday, April 30, 2008

See? It's Not So Hard.

With more resources than most other publications, the New York Times is able to afford the necessary helping verbs.

As I Saying . . .

Okay, so two people fired guns toward a school building and then the cops hauled in somebody who was learning to use Microsoft spreadsheets?

[Yes, there's something missing from my headline. A helping verb.]

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rules That Are

If you've read many of my rants or attended any of my presentations, you've probably heard me address "rules that aren't" -- those little superstitions have become the public face of grammardom even though they have little or no basis in fact. Split infinitives? They're just fine, and often preferable to the alternative. Ending sentences with prepositions? Beginning sentences with conjunctions? Nothing inherently wrong with either practice.

But I'm far from being entirely descriptivist. There are plenty of very common usage habits that have to be called inadvisable or just plain wrong, even when they produce perfectly understandable sentences. One such no-no is the dangler. I sometimes draw a blank when I have to come up with an example of a dangler, but I came across a couple of them in quick succession as I started to read the autobiography of Muhammad Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, and I thought I'd share.
Unable to renew his unrenewable youth, Ali's skills had declined during his enforced layoff.
It was Ali who was unable to renew his unrenewable youth, not "Ali's skills." Recast.
Awkward and rugged, it seemed as if Ali had underestimated him and his strength.
It was "him" (opponent Oscar Bonavena) who was awkward and rugged, not "it." Recast.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Help Yourself to a Helping Verb

USA Today tells us that 150,000 scrambled after more flights canceled. After more flights canceled what? You can scramble after more flight cancellations, or after more flights are canceled, but you can't scramble after more flights canceled, just as politicians can't say a bill bad. That's an improper headline shortcut.

Some more, from elsewhere:

Dad arrested after
dispute over which
gang right for baby

Comic says studios fear
femme flicks not funny

Watchdog group
says law violated

Doing Without Us

As copy editors gather in Denver to talk of many things, including the reality that publications are getting less interested in copy editing as we know it, there is news of a rather drastic example of that trend.

The graphic above, of course, is a joke. For now.