Wednesday, June 2, 2010

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

By Lauren Weiner

Our Kudzu Word of the Month: “traditional”

Have you noticed the way this word is driving out the use of “typical,” “usual,” “conventional,” “customary,” “established,” “long-standing,” “existing,” and other perfectly good adjectives?

Some examples:  
“The report lists traditional extremist groups, such as racist skinheads or lone terrorists.”
“Made from a special combination of 70 percent plant material and 30 percent traditional plastic.”

The first is from a daily newspaper. The second is from a label on a product bought by Knucklerap’s editor. She cannot recall what product it was, but rest assured it was not a Queen Anne chair.

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Dangle Alley: Where Modifiers Roam Forlornly

Baltimore Sun, May 2, 2010. Walter Hamilton: “Despite being co-captain of his prep school tennis team, his parents attended only one match.”

The opening clause refers not to the parents, but to their son (Eliot Spitzer). Therefore the clause dangles. Here is a good fix: “He was co-captain of his prep school tennis team, yet his parents attended only one match.”

Intelligent Life, Spring 2009. Johann Hari: “Humiliated, reviled, and still carrying a deadly virus, Sullivan’s story could easily have ended here.”

What should follow those opening participial phrases is “Sullivan,” for it was he – not “Sullivan’s story” – who was humiliated, reviled, and still carrying a deadly virus., April 1, 2010. Claudia Rosett: “Conceived before Sept. 11, and scheduled to air in the initial fall lineup of 2001, 24’s premiere was briefly delayed.”

It wasn’t the show’s premier, but the show itself, that was conceived and scheduled.

Baltimore Sun, April 5, 2010. Lorraine Mirabella: “Even if trained in a particular trade through the military, many states require retraining or recertification according to that state’s standards.”

The opening modifier dangles; we are never told who is trained.

Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2010. Dennis Byrne: “While similarly distracted, they also zapped us with another exorbitant ‘stimulus’ package of ‘investments’ in roads, bridges, ‘clean energy’ and whatnot.”

We were the ones distracted, not “they” (meaning members of the Obama administration).

Weekly Standard, March 29, 2010. David Aikman: “Hitler had lied to Chamberlain that, after gobbling up the Sudetenland, his appetite for territorial acquisition in Europe would be satisfied.”

His appetite did not gobble up the Sudetenland; he did. Suggested correction: “Hitler had lied to Chamberlain that gobbling up the Sudetenland would sate his appetite for territorial acquisition.”

Commentary, February, 2010. Joseph Epstein: “As an adolescent, my own favorite deli was a modest place, with 10 or 11 tables on Western Avenue, near Devon, called Friedman’s.”

Mr. Epstein should have written: “When I was an adolescent, my own favorite deli was a modest place . . . ”, July 28, 2009. Greg Grant: “Never numbering more than 5,000, RAND describes the PRUs as an ‘intelligence driven police force – better trained, equipped, and paid than the South Vietnamese National Police, and with a highly specialized mission, to be sure, but a police force nonetheless.’ ”

RAND does not number more than 5,000; the PRUs do.

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Baltimore Sun, March 26, 2010. Editorial: “The same goes for the three Republican House members who fanned the same protesters who cursed and spit at Democrats on Sunday by standing on the Capitol balcony with signs reading ‘Kill the bill.’ ”

You don’t fan protesters; you fan flames. (There is a slight suggestion here, as well, that spit is being fanned. Eeeew.)

New York Times, April 4, 2010. Alessandra Stanley: “The stature Ms. DeGeneres has on ‘Idol’ hasn’t bled over into her talk show.”

Can stature bleed? Mixed metaphor.

From the same Alessandra Stanley article: “The tempestuous Ms. O’Donnell allows anger, feuds and even family psychodramas to flow through her public appearances, particularly during her tenure on ‘The View.’ ”

Rosie O’Donnell is no longer on that television show, so there is a present-tense-past-tense discrepancy. To eliminate it, Ms. Stanley should finish the sentence by saying that this was particularly true when she was on “The View.”, May 4, 2010. John Dickerson: “Republicans hope to build on this mistrust by branding Democratic efforts at smart government into attempts to merely grow government.”

“Branding into” is not idiomatic English. Mr. Dickerson should either eliminate the “into” or substitute “turning” for “branding.”

Time magazine, May 3, 2010. Tim Padgett: “A former college quarterback, Charlie Crist often speaks with the motivational tenor of gridiron pep talks.”

One doesn’t really speak with a tenor. Switching prepositions (“in a tenor”) doesn’t seem to help, either. Looks like “tenor” is the wrong word.

Washington Post. August 14, 2009. Adam Bernstein: “Their quicksilver note-for-note matching of solos created howls of approval from the audience.”

While creating howls does not seem beyond the realm of possibility, it is more idiomatic to speak of eliciting them.

Vanity Fair, April 2008. Sheila Weller: “The achingly poignant song has an earned-sounding grasp of the finiteness of life; the relinquishment of the baby, in retrospect, seems a shadow theme.”

Can you earn a grasp? Maybe you can. But there’s also the question of whether a grasp can sound any particular way. We think not. Overwritten.

Knucklerap archive:

February 2010
August 2009
May 2009

Weiner, a Gotham team member, is a free-lance writer in Baltimore.

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