or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Editor's Dilemma

I used to devour books. I was one of those kids whose mom kicked him outdoors on a bright summer's day because she thought he ought to be out getting some sun and exercise and he thought he ought to be reading every book that was ever written.

What happened? I still read a lot, but most of it is on the Internet. I hardly ever read fiction any more; mostly when I dive into a book it's natural history or science, so I figured I had a chance of making it through "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I really wanted to read it: I waited for it for almost a month from the library (it's a hot read these days). And it's due back on Friday and I won't get a chance to finish it by then. I've only made it to page 39!

One of the reasons I stopped there is because it contains a thoroughly wrong sentence, and I just can't comprehend how it happened.

Even in May the only green you see are the moats of lawn surrounding the houses, the narrow strips of grass dividing one farm from another, and the roadside ditches.

"Green" is a singular noun, albeit a collective one (imagine "greenery" in its place). "Moats" is a plural noun. There's a verb between them. What shall it be: singular or plural?

The writer, or the editor, chose the plural noun, which could in theory be defensible but nevertheless sounds entirely wrong. That sentence just sets my teeth on edge. The singular verb sounds much better: "The only green you see is the moats of lawn...." Why was the plural verb used instead? I can't wrap my brain around it. It's horrible. If you can't stomach the singular verb, then recast the sentence, which in this case is a piece of cake ("...you see nothing green but the moats of lawn...", maybe).

I'm sure someone thought that the collective noun has to take a plural verb, but didn't anyone notice how dreadful the sentence is? Didn't anyone actually say it out loud? It was so bad that it froze me in my tracks and I left my bookmark there, and now I have to return it and I'll never get to finish it. Thanks a bunch, Michael Pollan and/or editor!


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