Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Knucklerap Corner: Where a Red Hand is the Mark of an Improved Mind

By Lauren Weiner

In our second installment, we keep on keeping them on their toes. Why, you ask? Because that is how we learn (and how we amuse ourselves). 

Let’s Hector Harvard

“I have been the enormous beneficiary of a time of great change.” Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female president of Harvard University, speaking to the Washington Post, February 7, 2008

We beg to differ. We have seen photographs of the lady and she is normal-sized. She meant to say that she has benefited enormously.

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New York Times, July 5, 2009. Clark Hoyt: “Dilemmas like the Rohde kidnapping put editors in excruciating positions.”

“Editors” is plural, but pluralizing “positions” to match is overly punctilious. Sounds better to say the editors are put in an excruciating position. The people he’s talking about are all in roughly the same position: caught between the desire to publish the facts and the desire to avoid angering kidnappers. What Mr. Hoyt wrote encourages a reader to picture things that (we assume) lie outside of his intention entirely.

Washington Post, August 14, 2009. Dan Morse: “A Hyattsville man who instituted what prosecutors called a ‘reign of terror’ in parts of Montgomery County was sentenced to life in prison without parole.”

“Instituted” is kind of formal. Such gentility goes against the sense of the sentence.  “Inflicted” or “imposed” would have been more apt. Or the man could be said to have “brought a reign of terror to” parts of Montgomery County. He’s a murderer not a mayor.

Baltimore Sun, May 14, 2009. David Zurawik: “He plays an unscrupulous attorney facing disbarment unless he goes back to school and earns an authentic undergraduate degree rather than the bogus one he had been passing himself off with.”

No, we are not going to bug Mr. Zurawik about ending a sentence with a preposition. At Knucklerap Corner we recognize that the prohibition against that has eroded so much that it’s okay to do it. “Passing himself off with” is what drew the foul. You pass yourself off as something you are not. And you get away with fraud. He seems to have conflated the two idioms.

Washington Times, June 18, 2009. Stephen Dinan and Christina Bellantoni: “If confirmed, he likely would face questions during a Senate confirmation hearing over how his nomination would square with the military’s policies on gays – though as a civilian position, he would not run afoul of the policy.”

He isn’t a civilian position; he’s a civilian.

USA Today, August 4, 2009. Gregg Zoroya: “War and separation is historically hard on families.”

No doubt he meant the separation caused by war, but still – if they are presented as two things, they need “are” not “is.”, July 19, 2009. Caryn James: “But the film gains a sharper-than-ever edge as the fumbling turns sinister, as active deception on both the British and American sides manipulate the path to war.”

“As” is being overused, to be sure, but that’s not a grammatical error. For the sentence to be grammatically correct, “manipulate” has to become “manipulates.” The “active deception” manipulates the path to war. On second thought, does it? A path is not really that manipulable. Metaphor doesn’t work.

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Dangle Alley: Where Modifiers Roam the Streets Forlornly

American Conservative, September 2009. Bill Kauffman: “Like Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, Oates’s films in these years were consistently interesting -- soulful, often literate contrasts to the brain sludge for cretins that fills theaters today.”

It is Warren Oates who is said to be like Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, not “Oates’s films.”

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Helping Helprin

New York Times, May 20, 2007. Mark Helprin: “Booksellers that publish their own titles benefit not from escaping the author’s copyright, but the previous publisher’s exercise of a grant of rights (limited, authors take note, to 35 years).”

The word “not” is misplaced. Parallelism demands that it go like this: Booksellers benefit from escaping, not the author’s copyright, but the previous publisher’s exercise of a grant of rights.

That was from an op-ed that Mr. Helprin expanded into a book called Digital Barbarism, which contains this sentence: “He did not share with those who now wrongly expropriate him a contempt for what they would call the bourgeoisie.”

He was speaking of Jefferson and he meant appropriate, not expropriate. Diction error.

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Got a mistake or infelicity to report? Send it to:


Weiner, a Gotham team member, is a speechwriter for the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

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