Friday, March 21, 2008

Whom's next?

When you think you're caught in grammatical quicksand, stop struggling and start diagramming:

The Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force arrested 19-year-old Your Name Here, an MU junior, for showing his genitals via Webcam to whom he thought was a 13-year-old girl but who was actually an undercover investigator.

Herm was? All right, keep your dirty mind on the grammar. Who'd the goolies get shown to? Someone. It'd be nice to have an epicene pronoun here, owing to the apparent confusion in the lead actor's mind, which becomes clearer when we un-transform the two relative clauses:
He thought s/he was a 13-year-old girl
S/he was actually an undercover officer

So they weren't allegedly shown to "whom" at all. They were allegedly shown to someone who he thought ... all right stop the tape. How do we know what he thought?

This isn't one of those cases where you point proudly at the textbook and turn "Smith thinks Carolina is going to win" into "Smith said he thinks Carolina is going to win." This is about the sort of thing people get locked up for. You can lighten up on lightweight stories. There's no corner-cutting, ever, on cop stories. (And yes, that extends to not saying "arrested for." That should have been written on your forehead with a soldering iron before you took the J2100 grammar exam.)

Different Dude's Name was taken into custody after a school official reported to the police that a 14-year-old girl had performed oral sex on him, said Boone County Sheriff’s Dept. Maj. Tom Reddin.

Quick, what's the antecedent of "him"?

There is no "too careful" with cop stories. But the good news is that grammar can get you out of trouble as quickly as it got you into trouble.

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1 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Oh, my. Well, the first one's just a mess. "Who" doesn't work AT ALL. "Someone he thought" is grammatically all right, but to avoid the "how do you know what he thought?" question, a simple "to someone posing as a 13-year-old girl..."

The second one. They seem to have arrested the wrong man.

6:06 PM, March 22, 2008  

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