or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Another Country

"The Amazing Race" ended last night with a finale I can live with: Tyler and BJ, the not-quite-as-objectionable-as-Eric-and-Jeremy and not-as-likely-to-get-lost-as-Ray-and-Yolanda team, won. I don't know why the show has such a pull on me: it's not really as good as it used to be, with pointless new rules added from time to time and stupid experiments like the four-player family teams of the previous season (I didn't even bother with it). But if you have to watch a reality show, it's still the one to watch.

This story, or storyette, contains the following sentence:

Other far-off locales the contestants visited included the Persian Gulf state of Oman, Moscow and Munich.

Yes, I would have put a comma after "Moscow"; I happen to like lists that are completely separated by commas, but that's not my complaint here. This is an extremely fine point of style, I know, but I think that if you have a list that contains one modifier, in this case the adjectival phrase "the Persian Gulf state of", you should put that modified list element at the end. If you don't, the reader can easily get the impression that the modifier applies to all the elements of the list.

I know: nobody thinks that there's a Persian Gulf state called "Oman, Moscow and Munich". Probably. But there are countries with "and" in their names, such as "Sao Tome and Principe", and so that strange little list forces you stop for a moment and say, "Wha?"

One of the principles of clear writing is that you do what you can to avoid confusing the reader. How hard would it have been to reconstruct the sentence as the clearer, unobjectionable "Moscow, Munich, and the Persian Gulf state of Oman"? Not hard at all.


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