MORE LAX SYNTAX.

Reading today’s NY Times, I ran across a sentence (in the story “Separatist Revives Movement in Quebec” by Clifford Krauss) whose ungrammaticality was even subtler than the one cited in my entry OF OF: “A government audit found that the federal government had furtively passed out tens of millions of dollars to friendly advertising companies involved in antiseparatist publicity efforts deeply offended Quebecers.” I’m betting the people who had to reread the Fernea sentence will have to parse this one even more carefully, while my fellow editors will grasp the problem right off the bat.

Comments

  1. Hmm… this error seems much less subtle to me, because instead of having one word doing double duty (both duties being quite common and correct in written English, which helps to fake out your brain), you have a sentence that works just fine until you hit a jarring bit stuck on the end.
    That is to say, even though the easiest way to fix it would be to put a “which” in there near the start, this “wrong” version isn’t even wrong until you get to the last three words.

  2. The earlier one just made me double-take; this one made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Ack!
    The placement of the “which” depends on whether it’s the audit or the ads that offended the Quebeckers. I’m thinking it’s the ads, which means the “which” needs to go toward the end, and should actually be a “that.” —Myself, I’d probably shoot the whole dam’ sentence and cut it up for bait.

  3. Yeah, “subtle” was probably the wrong word — I meant that by the time you get to the end you’re likely to have forgotten how it started. The author certainly did!

  4. Michael Farris says:

    Isn’t this a garden path?
    And I’ll take the unpopular stance that it was probably an editor that’s responsible. In my newspaper experience, it wasn’t that unusual for copy editors to edit in mistakes or distortions (the good ones realized that was possible and would work with the writer so that both were happy).

  5. Anacoluthon rather than garden path. A garden path sentence is grammatical but doesn’t seem to be. Anacoluthon is the author just forgetting mid-way how their sentence started, and taking off from a wrong memory, to give something ungrammatical. They assumed they had begun with something like ‘The report that’, ‘The discovery that’, and that this was a subject waiting for a main verb.

  6. Missing “which”, right? Honest, I didn’t cheat. (If I’m right, I mean.) I read it once and checked back quickly once.

  7. Editors who work for native speakers, try out these samples from a not-so-very-far-past life of mine:
    —-
    According to Greek Politis newspaper, recorded the Greek side’s thesis that as long as Annan Plan is presented to referendum, who would participate has to be determined, Papadopulos said that TRNC citizens’ manner on voting in referendum on April 20th.
    The Prime Minister who express that these polls did not determine absolute results but were as a data also said that this is much more that the situation in November 3 Elections.
    —-
    And then they go behind your back and correct your edits. Once I had “Pyrrhic” changed to “Pirik” on me. Pretty irritating to come in and find that in yesterday’s paper, before you even start work.

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