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.


  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.

  8. The spirit police say Cheng stole is 49.9% alcohol, and comes in 750ml bottles.

    [Although this is the English-language site of a Mandarin news service; their English is usually excellent — if a little starchy. The Mandarin site is here — beyond me to search if I can’t see the corresponding photo.]

  9. The English is fine — that’s just a bog-standard garden-path headline. You have to read it twice, but that doesn’t make it ungrammatical.

  10. I knew my initial interpretation of “spirit police” as a noun phrase was bound to be wrong, but it sounded so neat (like ‘ghost hunters” or “poltergeist wardens”) that continued trying to read the sentence with that meaning, because I figured it would be entertaining. (All this was at an only semi-conscious level, of course.)

  11. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I didn’t even notice the ghostbusters.

  12. that’s a hell of a boozy djinn (presumably not super observant, if it’s one of the muslim ones), though i suppose i don’t know what the operating limit for carpets is.

  13. The English is fine …

    but it sounded so neat

    Yes it’s a standard garden-path. Like Brett I was bemused by the idea (in a Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian culture) there’d be ‘spirit police’ — perhaps to make sure everybody was keeping their ancestors’ graves properly swept.

    Or even — more prosaically — police dedicated to monitoring liquor.

  14. Sounds like a case for DI Chen

  15. If the PRC regulates the reincarnation of Buddhist Lamas, Taiwan can have a spirit police. It’s only fair.

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    Do not scoff, AntC.
    After moving to a flat overlooking a green space in a city in Thailand, an acquaintance suffered terrible nightmares, physical illness and a run of bad luck (e.g., breaking a significant percentage of total bones in a number of two-wheel and four-wheel vehicular accidents). Finally an exorcist was called in, and said his only advice was to move. Apparently the”green space” had been used by the Japanese during the war for interrogation of Thai suspects, some of whom died during interrogation and were duly buried there. The subsequent building of apartment blocks and related excavation work had caused these anyway disposed to be unquiet spirits to vent their frustration on residents.

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