Friday, October 22, 2010

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

Lauren's back, and she's combing the culture for grammar gaffes:

The Corrections
By Lauren Weiner

Page 52 of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

"There were fifty thousand students at the U., but probably less than five hundred of them (not counting former players and friends or family of current players) considered women's athletic events a viable entertainment option."

It should be "fewer than five hundred" not "less than five hundred." Granted, this sentence occurs in a section that is supposed to come from the diary of Patty Berglund. Was the error put in deliberately by Patty's creator, Mr. Franzen, as a clue to what she is like? Possibly, but we do not think so. Patty's mode of expression is so little distinguishable from the voice that narrates the other parts of the novel that we consider the diary device to be a rather large flaw in an otherwise accomplished work. We charge the error to Mr. Franzen himself.

Page 503 of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

"He exhibited no trace of a sense of responsibility, but also, therefore, neither defensiveness nor resentment."

A bit wordy. How about streamlining: "He exhibited no trace of a sense of responsibility, and therefore no defensiveness or resentment."

Disclaimer: We offer these corrections mindful of their utter puniness yet confident that the novelist welcomes our vigilance. His own vigilance was demonstrated in a recent newspaper item: It said Mr. Franzen was in England, where he discovered that his U.K. readers had a version of Freedom that was not the final proof. He asked them to discard the draft that someone at the publishing house had mistakenly released over there. A cock-up of such major proportions deserves a rap on the knuckles. Make that two raps, extra hard, one on each hand. Blimey.

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Dangle Alley, Where This Time Only David Rakoff Roams, August 3, 2010. "After describing them to a sculptor friend, she showed up the next day with a small plastic container of powdered graphite and two solid Koh-i-Noor graphite sticks."

The "she" following the comma is the sculptor friend. There would be nothing to take issue with if Mr. Rakoff had written: "After I described them to a sculptor friend, she showed up the next day." Instead, the opening clause modifies the describer without that describer (Mr. Rakoff) being named. The clause is left dangling., July 9, 2009. "Unlike Borat's evident naiveté, with his cheap suit and wide-eyed wonder at American plenty, unfamiliar with the felicities of monied, first-world civilization, Brüno, a successful Austrian talk-show host, cuts a figure of slippery, continental media-savviness."

We are supposed to see Brüno as unlike Borat. Yet Mr. Rakoff wades into the contrast with a grammatical discontinuity: Brüno is being put up against, not Borat, but "Borat's evident naiveté.", August 3, 2010. "Much like those of an athletic bent who are constantly succumbing to, or having to resist, the impulse to turn everything into a ball (or so I assume. I have never been moved to use a ball even as a ball), if you make things, all objects house the potential to be turned into something else." 

Here Mr. Rakoff is comparing rather than contrasting. But, as in the Borat/Brüno example, the two elements are not presented in a strictly parallel way. The initial formulation dangles. (The period in the middle of that parenthetical was no good, either.)

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Washington Post, August 13, 2010. Charles Krauthammer: "A mosque really seeking to build bridges, Rauf's ostensible hope for the structure, would accept the offer."

A mosque is in no position to accept (or reject) an offer. It is inanimate.

Baltimore Sun, October 2, 2010. Photo caption on the front page: "Nitrell Cotton, a first-grader at Lockerman Bundy Elementary, carries a cello that's bigger than him down the hall at his school."

The instrument is bigger than he is. If you want to shorten it: "bigger than he." People have come to consider this highfalutin but that's no reason to elbow it aside in favor of bad English.

Washington Post, August 3, 2010. Rajiv Chandrasekaran: "Commanders are wrestling with the option of razing some fields to remove the bombs, which would eliminate many farmers' livelihoods, or assume more risk by leaving the crops untouched."

Parallelism error. "Razing some fields" should be followed by "assuming more risk by leaving" the crops alone.

From the same Rajiv Chandrasekaran article: "A recent effort by Karzai's local-governance directorate to fill 300 civil service jobs in Kandahar and the surrounding district turned up four qualified applicants, even after the agency dropped its application standards to remove a high school diploma, according to several U.S. officials."

To make it less awkward, he could have said: "even after the agency dropped the requirement that applicants have a high school diploma."

New York Times, October 10, 2010. Anne Barnard and Alan Feuer: "Even some of her former right-wing allies say she has gone too far."

They are still right-wing; they just aren't allies of hers (Pamela Geller's) any longer. Syntax error.

Knucklerap archive:
June 2010
February 2010
August 2009
May 2009

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

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