Friday, August 31, 2007

firm support for your dangling participles

Every Thursday, the Calgary Herald sends out a sampler paper they call "Neighbours". It's filled with advertising circulars and articles on domestic subjects - how to pickle cucumbers, pack a healthy lunch for your junior high kid, or shop for a new mattress. Reading it is a bit like talking to actual neighbours, friendly folks who want to tell you all about the new restaurant in town or their herniated discs, or just chat about nothing much at all.

The reason I mention it here, and why I read "Neighbours" with such glee, is that it contains some of the worst editing I've ever come across. Here's an example from part 2 of an ongoing series, "In Search of the Perfect Mattress". This article is headlined:

Couple find ideal sleep solution

Already we're on shaky grammatical ground, wondering whether this is (these are?) some newfangled plural couple or the conventional singular type. As you read on, you find various ingenuous quotes from mattress experts:

"Surprisingly, the choice will be narrowed down quite quickly as customers tend to have their own comfort preference."
You don't say! But the final coup de grace is this astonishing sentence:

He cites some of the important areas that should be covered by a sales person include sleeping patterns, work patterns or strains on the body, physical ailments or concerns, and of course, for whom the bed is.
This is the kind of sentence that keeps me awake at night, delighting in the tortuous syntax. (Maybe I'm unique in having that sleep pattern.) I'm pretty sure the writer was conscientiously avoiding a dangling participle, as she unintentionally suggests a John Donne poem.

For whom the bed is, indeed? Do not ask; it is for thee.


Jeff said...

Apparently Neighbours is lovingly translated into Chinese, and then back again before publication. We don't get it delivered at all 'round these parts.

Anonymous said...

The dangling participle is indefensible, of course. But now that you live in Canada, you have to get used a few 'Britishisms'. I think across the pond what we consider a plural noun takes the singular verb. Hence the line in the Beatles song:

"The band are not quite right.”

That’s why we fought the revolutionary war, I suppose.