Bring Back the Copyeditors, Part II

Back when I was a cub reporter and every kid had to walk five miles in the snow to go to school in a little red shack at the far end of the earth, copyeditors reigned supreme at newspapers, and there’s no way I could’ve gotten away with what T.J. Simes did Saturday in the Los Angeles Times.

Simers, a sarcastic (he would no doubt prefer sardonic) sports columnist, was ripping apart the UCLA Bruins football team and their quarterback, Kevin Craft, when he wrote:

And so watching Kevin Craft play quarterback for the Bruins on Friday night, while amusing in its oddity and folly, it became painful to watch.

Granted, this was only in the print edition, and someone corrected it online, but note that Simers has two subjects for one verb.  The first–and the actually intended–subject is watching, which is a gerund (verb turned into a noun).  The second subject is it, which immediately precedes the verb became.  The inclusion of it just renders the sentence awakward, grammatically incorrect and harder to understand.

The fact, however, that someone caught the error means that the column was probably rushed to print to make the deadline, but still, no excuses, folks.

(I wonder if some copyeditor actually added the it and then someone, perhaps Simers, caught it and had it corrected online.  That would be even worse!)

If I Was a Rich Man…

…I’d write more posts for this blog and I’d correct that subjunctive clause to its proper form: "If I were a rich man…."

Seeing as how I’m nowhere near rich, I have to grovel like everyone else to make a few bucks and keep the bankruptcy court at bay as long as I can.

When I applied for my latest writing gig, one of the interviewers asked me my pet peeve with misused English, and I answered "the subjunctive mood," which is clearly evident in the song, "If I Was a Rich Man," and in almost everyone’s everyday English when discussing conditional matters in an if construction.

However, I’d also have to rank verb coordination right there with the subjunctive.

For instance, look at this sentence:

"Neither he nor I are happy about this."

Anything wrong here?

Yes, indeed, there is.  In a neither/nor or either/or construction, there are two subjects, and sometimes one is singular and one is plural, or one is third person and one is first person, as in this example.

Since you can have only one verb in  neither/nor, either/or sentence, which of the two subjects determines the verb?  English rules dictate that the second subject determines the verb form.  Therefore, the above sentence should read:

"Neither he nor I am happy about this."

Sounds strange, huh?  But just like the people who predicted our current economic meltdown a year ago were considered strange, this proper usage is far from strange but absolutely spot on.

His Far Left Dangling Modifier (and Person) Is Showing

I picked up a copy of the New York Times on Thursday, but only because there were photos of a California wine shop I frequent and a story, of sorts, about its owner.

Somehow, in the process I stumped upon a weird feature with weirder photos and still weirder writing in the same section.  A piece by someone named Mike Albo entitled "No Frown Is Left Unturned," unfortunately, sucked me in and gobbled up precious moments of my time better spent in things like, um, daydreaming, shouting at my dog or doing nothing.

Anyway, I was about five paragraphs into this guy’s piece when I realized a) he has no clue how to use modifiers and clauses correctly and b) he’s a far-left-leaning, America-hating Vladimir Ilyich Lenin striker (Navy term for apprentice). 

Check out this whopper of a misconstructed but totally revealing sentence of his:

It’s totally weird, but after a quick promenade through the store, some deeply repressed part of myself [sic– me if he wants to use correct English] that has been buried for years under a morose cloud of apocalyptic doom was finally freed.

Ok, but who did the "quick promenade"?   There is no subject in the sentence who can take a promenade.  This ungrammatical part could’ve been cured by writing, "…after I made a quick promenade…."

I can cure the English grammar (though not the overwrough English), but no one can cure this person who hates the very country he lives in, and thus himself in the bargain.

False Promises Through the Modern Use of English

You must excuse me for being derelict in my English duties for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been busy following our economic turmoil and watching way too much Cramerica (Jim Cramer and his Mad Money CNBC show).

I think I’ve written about George Orwell and his essay on "Politics and the English Language" before, but since we all just went through a nationwide election, it’s time to revisit this bit of Orwellian genius.  Take this passage:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.  It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Now, those of you who voted for Barack Obama will no doubt conclude that John McCain uses slovenly language.  Maybe so; Obama is a more polished speaker, barrister and promissory artist that he is.  It is rather that I’d like to focus on the "foolish thoughts" observation of Orwell’s.

Was it anything but foolishness to believe that any one person could accomplish everything our president-elect promised.

Free health care?  Is anything really free?  We’ll all pay with lousier hospitals and long waiting lists.  Pull the troops out of Iraq so we can face an enlarged and more empowered Iran?  End our dependence on oil without building nuclear plants or allowing offshore drilling?  (I love the comment by the presiding party and its leaders: "Drilling won’t solve our problem."  I guess it’ll make it worse or do nothing, both of which assertions seem ridiculous and disingenous.)

It is more that people want to believe in the tooth fairy and thus hear what they want to hear. 

See, we’re all captive to our "foolish thoughts."