Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Revenge of the pig

Hmm. Must be Prescriptivism Week here at HEADSUP-L Manor, because it looks like we've had another visit from Lucy, the Poster Pig of Parallel Scructure.

Lucy's a reminder that Will Strunk and his pig-worshiping acolyte* weren't just whistling Dixie when they reminded us to express coordinate ideas in parallel form, as is distinctly not the case in the model J4400-nee-110 sentence:

There will be a petting zoo, pony rides and children can meet Lucy the pig.

Identify a Lucy fault by backing up to the element where the compound begins -- here, the linking verb -- and reading the sentence out for each complement:

There will be a petting zoo.
There will be pony rides.
* There will be children can meet Lucy the pig.

As with most such faults, this one can be fixed in several ways:

Children can visit a petting zoo, ride ponies and meet Lucy the pig. (compound predicate)

There will be a petting zoo, pony rides and a miraculous talking pig for children to meet.** (parallel noun complements)

The reason Lucy comes up today is that she isn't just an ectoplasmic vampire swine who haunts 202 Neff looking for the souls*** of news-ed majors. She's a real-life threat to daily journalism, as in today's obits:

She was a member of the Columbia Altrusa Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and an honorary deacon at First Christian Church.

Applying the Lucy test, we get:
She was a member of the Columbia Altrusa Club.
She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. (don't forget the article****)
* She was a member of the an honorary deacon at First Christian Church.

This one's especially amenable to another sort of fix: Creating two compounds of two, rather than one misshapen compound of three.

She was a member of the Columbia Altrusa Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution and was an honorary deacon at First Christian Church.

Flaws of parallelism get a bit trickier when they dress alike. Here's one that snuck past the Buffalo copydesk (distinctly not the only thing that snuck past in that tale, but it is, after all, a story about job cuts; perhaps there's a subtle message there):

Cartoonists have a history of biting commentary and upsetting readers.

"Biting" and "upsetting" are both perfectly good adjectives:

The cartoon was biting.
The cartoon was upsetting.

They're also both perfectly good gerunds:

Upsetting readers is fun.
Biting readers is fun.

See the problem? They look like the same form, but they switch hats in the middle of the sentence. Hunt these things down ruthlessly, lest you provide further Sow Chow for the readers.


* Coincidence, or what??
** Consult with writer before inserting talking-animal miracles into text, pls.
*** Good luck, porky.
**** Which doesn't apply to the original example because it shifts from singular ("a petting zoo") to plural ("pony rides"). No detail is too small for a parallelism fault.

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