Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate whinge: Grammar's your friend

Couple small points to remind you that grammar isn't -- or mustn't be -- an afterthought, even when your highest-powered experts are hemming and hawing about presentation and content.
The passive voice is loved by us. Not just because it's fun to yank the occasional pedantic J-school chain, but because decisions about verb voice really ought to be based on which one serves the purpose at hand, rather than some ill-remembered rule. So I'm not complaining about the passive voice in this hed. I'm suggesting that when you mix voices in the same hed, you risk an appearance of card-stacking: Candidate A says something, but what's said about him comes from ... who? Candidate B? The audience? Other journalists? God in Her wisdom?
Let's try to do a little better here, SacBee. It doesn't help to balance paragraphs and quotes if your syntax is shopping you to the bias cops.
One more grammar point. Quick, diagram this sentence, from the Freep's frontpage column about the previous evening's unpleasantness:
Obama reiterated his belief that talk is good, even with those who swear they'd destroy us and our enemies.
In the not-too-long-ago days, some long-suffering editor might have asked the pontificator to diagram that complementized clause:
[talk is good, even with]
[those who swear they'd destroy us]
and
[our enemies]

[talk is good, even with those who swear they'd destroy]
[us]
and
[our enemies]


The enemy of my enemy is ... dude, wait. What?
There's a lot in this column to suggest that the writer's not very well positioned to talk about national politics:
Is it easier to talk about diplomacy and foreign relations -- areas of great importance but somewhat more obscure consequences or outcomes -- than to focus on real solutions to Americans' real problems?
... but those are clue questions, not grammar questions, and are dealt with elsewhere.

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Heeee - what a great sentence. Must use it my unit on structural ambiguity.

11:56 AM, September 28, 2008  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

ps - this is clear proof we need to resurrect case endings. A nice accusative on "us" and instrumental on "our enemies" would clear that right up!

9:27 PM, September 28, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Hey, be fair! I've just spent a week explaining to the editing students how lucky they are that the Normans stole all our grammar. Kids, if your parents hadn't built those bomb shelters and voted for Ike, you'd have six case endings to worry about!

10:41 PM, September 28, 2008  

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