Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ghost of textbooks past

Another in the didn't-happen-by-accident category, from today's front page:

On Monday morning, people who are unemployed, underemployed and others lined around the Palace of Auburn Hills like a scarf around a chilly neck for free tickets to his April 7 Comedy Stimulus Plan show.

Not the simile (though it probably has Raymond Chandler rolling over in his angel food), the verb: "People lined around the Palace of Auburn Hills." Someone is remembering, or misremembering, some rogue guide to news writing that denounced all prepositions-with-verbs as "needless words" in need of omitting.

True it is that there are a few such cases, in which the preposition is just there for emphasis or hanging around like the human appendix. "Clean the kitchen" and "clean up the kitchen" are pretty much the same thing (though "clean up" is a whole different verb in "I went to the races and cleaned up"). But "line" and "line up" -- no, those are entirely separate verbs. It's impossible to tell from the subscriber seats whether an editor let the writer down by not noticing the slip or -- worse -- by "improving" a correct original, but somebody done somebody wrong.

The "people who are unemployed" clause looks like an overextension of a trend in inclusive language: talk about people, rather than conditions. The result is a Lucy the Pig fault:
people who are unemployed
people who are underemployed
people who are others

And the last graf could have been written without leaving the office:

"This," said 55-year-old Quotable Person of Warren, who lost her job with Chrysler 18 months ago, "is just what this area needs."

... but that's enough about a five-paragraph story, innit?



Blogger Jan Freeman said...

I truly hope this is not a male-female usage distinction, but I do think "clean up the kitchen" and "clean the kitchen" are different. I hear the first one as "tidy up, wipe counters, make presentable." But "cleaning" the kitchen involves gloves, mop, refrigerator interiors -- ugly stuff. Cleaning is not one of my areas of expertise, though, so I'm interested to hear if others make this distinction.

1:30 PM, March 17, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Clean up is "thoroughly clean" to me. It's "up" doing it - it's main meaning is "completely" (why burning up/down are the same).

Neal at Literal Minded loves those multiple-level coordinations.

6:33 PM, March 17, 2009  

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