or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, September 19, 2005

Over There

This bit of jetsam washed up on the fourth page of the slide show illustrating a Slate.com article about Fashion Week:

The editors were another absorbing piece of window dressing. You can always spot the Europeans, and you'll usually find more of them at a Londoner's show. They possess a certain je ne sais quoi and a slightly mussed aesthetic: They favor dark, slouchy sweaters that fit just so and don't smile as much (though I observed the occasional tossing back of the head and laughing). They're sexier than the clean-as-a-pin and pressed Americans, who look a little, well, uncool, by comparison.

You spotted that, right? The mistake that every elementary-school grammar teacher taught you to avoid? "They favour dark, slouchy sweaters that fit just so and don't smile as much...."

Yes, it's the classic misplaced modifier. Now, the reason your stricter grammar teachers taught you to avoid it is that it will confuse people, who won't know if the phrase "don't smile as much" refers to "they" or to "sweaters". This, of course, is nonsense; any cretin would know that "they" is the referent. And yet your grammar teacher was right about the general rule; it's not a very well-written sentence, the modifier is misplaced, and the sentence should have been rewritten. (The addition of the word "they" before "don't smile as much" would have cleaned it up perfectly, as would flipping the clauses: "They don't smile as much and favour dark, slouchy sweaters....")

My attitude is always that in writing, it's just as easy to do it correctly as it is to do it incorrectly, so why not do it right in the first place? Or, failing that--since as we all know you cannot edit your own writing--why not let an editor clean it up?


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