By Lauren Weiner
What a humbling craft is writing. There are so many ways to do it wrong. With standards to uphold (and fun to be had) we take you to . . .
Where a red hand is the mark of an improved mind
“Gray Lady” Stumbles Repeatedly
New York Times, April 19, 2009. Richard W. Stevenson: “In beginning to articulate a long-term approach, the president is putting an early stamp on a debate of historic importance – and ideological underpinnings – just getting under way in the United States and around the world.”
The three-word interjection floats in strangely. Where are those ideological underpinnings supposed to be located? Under the debate? It would seem so. That would leave us with: a stamp on a debate that has underpinnings and is under way. Hmmm.
New York Times Book Review Trifecta
“These brief encounters function to communicate Sally’s belief in ‘a magical being,’ but how, or whether, such a belief informs her actions remains less certain.” Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review, April 19, 2009
“Consider that she’s got pluck enough to face down a gauntlet of drunks, a loaded pistol and a bully who beats her nearly to death, knocking out two of her teeth.” Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review, April 19, 2009
“Even minor characters have names that would render them right at home in a vintage comic strip.” Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review, April 19, 2009
Item one: “function to.” She means the encounters serve to communicate Sally’s belief. It would be correct to say that the encounters’ function is to communicate Sally’s belief. That’s wordy. Best solution: skip all that and make it, “These brief encounters communicate Sally’s belief.”
Item two: “face down a gauntlet.” No, you run a gauntlet. This conflation of idioms stems from the fact that you do face down drunks and bullies.
Item three: “would render them right at home.” This locution seems lame to the editor of Knucklerap Corner, though she admits it might not be out-and-out wrong.
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Washington Post, April 7, 2009. David Ignatius: “Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a man sometimes known for being headstrong and pushy, asks the tribal leaders sweetly, ‘What attracts people to the Taliban?’ ”
To be precise, the obnoxious behavior is the sometimes thing, not the knowing of it. Holbrooke is known for sometimes being headstrong and pushy. Granted, Mr. Ignatius might not like the ring of that. At least the syntactical error is fixed.
Washington Post, April 9, 2009. Carrie Johnson: “For Holder, who got his start as a young lawyer in the department more than three decades ago, the announcements put his stamp on a building still reeling from the dismissal this week of criminal charges against former senator Ted Stevens.”
Again with the stamps (see Mr. Stevenson, lead item). This metaphor is mixed multiply: You can’t put a stamp on a building nor can that building go “reeling.”
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Dangle Alley: Where Modifiers Roam the Streets Forlornly
Time.com, March 27, 2009. Mark Thompson: “Instead of lobbing missiles towards the U.S. and letting physics and gravity handle the rest, Cartwright predicted that enemy warheads will be the military equivalent of a screwball.”
Cartwright isn’t the one lobbing the missiles; the enemy is. Opening clause dangles.
Slate.com, May 2, 2007. Geoffrey Wheatcroft: “Without quite resorting to the coarsest xenophobia or Muslim-baiting, the language he used to win 30 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting was decidedly more brutal than emollient.”
“He” should come immediately after the comma, for it was he -- not “the language he used” -- who stopped short of resorting to xenophobia or Muslim-baiting.
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Oldies but Goodies
New Yorker, May 27, 2002. Malcolm Gladwell: “Yes, the middle manager does not always contribute directly to the bottom line.”
Yes, we have no bananas. Better to lead the sentence with “No, . . .” or “True, . . . ”
Weekly Standard, July 14, 2003. Joseph Epstein: “I myself have had no difficulty loving women who wanted to, and others who didn’t in the least care about, saving the whale.”
Take out the middle clause and you’re left with: “women who wanted to saving the whale.” Parallelism error. Mr. Epstein should have said he had “no difficulty loving women who wanted to, and others who didn’t in the least care to, save the whale.”
Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2003. Ben Yagoda: “. . . with an eloquence and truth that is almost never intended at the time but that becomes unmistakable with the years . . .”
Eloquence and truth are two things. It should be: “are almost never intended at the time but that become unmistakable with the years.”
Weekly Standard, February 25, 2002. Lauren Weiner: “Legs Diamond, Marcus Gorman, and Billy Phelan also figure in ‘Roscoe,’ a work that magnifies this phenomena yet further.”
Should be “phenomenon.”
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Weiner, a Gotham team member, is a speechwriter for the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
© 2008 Gotham Ghostwriters, All rights reserved.