Monday, March 02, 2009

Tangled up in writing

Here's an unusually heavy case of noun pileup in text:

A British spiritualist minister was found guilty Monday of murdering his Emmy award-winning TV make-up artist wife and dumping her body in the woods.

I'm inclined to score that as just general bad writing, rather than a particularly British feature; "his TV makeup artist wife" doesn't sound as if it would be out of place in a US social column (assuming social columns still run in some places). And American news language is equally fond of using all that space in the predicate to summarize the spicy parts about the case, even if "murder" is the only part the defendant was convicted of.

And a bit of tangled writing from the colonies:

He said injuries generally happen infrequently at the museum, and usually are like those that occur on a playground.

So ... if they generally happen infrequently, how often do they happen frequently? Which one of those goes with "usually"?

There's a useful Strunk & White-ish guideline for this: Generally, talk about what stuff is, rather than what it isn't. If he said injuries are rare at the museum (one does sort of hope so, doesn't one?), let him say it: Injuries are rare at the museum, he said, and when they do happen, they are usually like ones that occur on the playground.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Theophylact said...

Actually, it does seem to be a British fetish.

4:37 PM, March 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite sports quotes, from former Minnesota Viking Coach Bud Grant about his defensive tackle, Alan Page:
"He's the kind of player who usually comes along rarely and sometimes never."

4:23 PM, March 10, 2009  

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