Saturday, December 10, 2005

X's and O's

... which, as any fule kno, is the only sort of plural you should ever form with the apostrophe.

The upshot of which is: When you're caught in a thicket of grammar, diagram your way out. You don't need to memorize which parts of speech go on slanty lines and which ones go above or below the main clause, but if you can figure out which part gloms on to which,* you'll sharply reduce your chance of getting further entangled.

There is, of course, an example:

In the Charlotte region, The Park Ministries is one of a number of faith-based organizations expanding its ministries and facilities in dramatic ways.

This sentence doesn't have a lot of "grammar" (neither does English, but that's another sermon), but it has a lot of grammatical parts**. That's probably why the writer latched onto the wrong pronoun for the truncated clause at the end. When in doubt, sketch it out:

Subject: Park Ministries
Linking verb: is
Predicate noun: one

Good so far? Now: What's it one of? A number of organizations. What are the organizations doing? Expanding THEIR ministries. Ta-da. Just put your head down and follow the bread crumbs. Add one egg, a couple more metaphors and you have a cure for disagreement.

It wouldn't be Saturday without a few more complaints, though, so ...

Local religious leaders and consultants who have been through the process say that raising even big sums of money can be achieved.

"Raising even big sums of money can be achieved"? Why not "even big sums of money can be raised"? Oh. Because that would make clear that we need to stop spinning the semantic wheels and find something specific to talk about.

In a fast-growing metropolitan area with an estimated 700 houses of worship, it's probably no surprise that churches routinely expand or move to accommodate new members. A recent Charlotte Observer/WCNC News Carolina poll found that 48 percent of those living in the eight-county Mecklenburg region said they attend a house of worship very often.

"Non sequitur" is Latin for "What the hell does any of this have to do with any of the rest of this?" Is 700 too many or too few? Where's the evidence that churches "routinely expand or move"? Why should or shouldn't it be a surprise if they do or don't? And what's the point in disinterring this misbegotten poll again? Stick to your topic. Don't drag in the irrelevant to show me the paper's been paying attention. (And yes, for readers of the subscribers-only edition: "Told the Observer" is on the Forbidden Attribution List too.)

* Part of the Grammar Is Nothing But Legos Theory, forthcoming someday in the Official HEADSUP-L Grammar Book.
** Misuse of the adjective "dramatic," of course, isn't a matter of "grammar." It's a matter of random noisy word selection, so stop it.


Anonymous Amy said...

I think "told the Observer" is what happens when I read a question hed, say "yes" or "no" and move on without reading the story.

6:43 PM, December 10, 2005  

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