Friday, October 18, 2002

But, But, But ...

This sentence appeared in my newspaper, The Washington Post:

The sniper has struck morning, noon and night, but his most recent targets have been near highways.

Police were looking on the "time" side of the time-space continuum, I suppose, so he eluded them by striking in "space" instead.

I don't mean to pick on editors who probably had very little time to go over this story; I'm just using a handy illustration of a common error:

"But" is not a toy. When you see it as an editor or are tempted to use it as a writer, ask yourself whether it's actually pointing out a seeming contradiction or whether it's just there for decoration. Does the highway thing contradict the "morning, noon and night" thing? Of course not. Usually, then, you could repair the damage by changing "but" to "and." In this case, however, the two parts of the sentence aren't even that closely related. Get me rewrite!