Thursday, June 23, 2011

Partial quote of the morning

J-textbooks tend to discourage partial or fragmentary quotes,* but that hardly means writers don't use them. Part of a quote could be ungrammatical, so the writer can preserve some of the magic flavor quotes are supposed to provide without appearing to poke fun at the speaker. There might be a striking or distinctive turn of phrase that you want to preserve while making sure nouns and pronouns still agree. Or you might want to keep some of the distinctive/colorful words but leave out the ones you can't say on TV.

To get the most out of your partial quote, you should follow a few rules. One, the quote ought to be worth the attention you draw to it. Two, it ought to be the sort of syntactic module that fits neatly into the rest of the sentence. When in doubt, try the press conference** test:

Q: Sergeant, where were the tusks coming out?
A: Of the side of its mouth.

The story is strange enough in what appears to be the unedited AP version ("Deputies flee, then shoot charging wild pig"). The Freep makes it even less compelling by deleting the lede and starting with the second sentence

From a Wednesday story from the source paper, you can get a sense of why the quote was shortened to fit, but the wire version adds a preposition to the quote itself:

The pig, which deputies estimated weighed about 300 pounds, had “tusks that come out the side of its mouth."

Can't tell from here whether the wire version is a transcription error or an attempt to bring the nonstandard "out the side of its mouth" into line. But notice how the tusks fit into the AP story:

Pfau said the pig had tusks coming out "of the side of its mouth" and that it charged as deputies moved closer.

Usually, news language uses that slot in the data chain for something that makes the subject stand out: "Police said the attacker had a gun in his hand and that he waved it menacingly at onlookers." But "out the side of its mouth" seems like the default condition of tusks; the result is more like "the attacker had two legs and waved his gun menacingly at onlookers."

More pitfalls of robo-posting:

Saginaw County Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Pfau (FAUGH) tells The Saginaw News for a story Wednesday that it took two rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun to bring down the pig.

The pronouncer is there for broadcasters,*** so there's not much point in keeping it for a version meant to be read. But worse than that -- what's it supposed to tell the poor broadcaster? Is that -augh as in "laugh," or "Limbaugh," or what?

Depending on how it's actually pronounced, AP style calls for "ow" or "aw." The AP system isn't great, but it's better than the result here.

* Showing that they make for "choppy" sentences by using distinctly choppy examples. That strikes me as a common rhetorical device in textbooks; the evils of splitting a main verb from an auxiliary are illustrated in one book with "The governor said she had last year seen the document."
** Last time the topic came up, commenter RootlessCosmo was kind enough to mention Mr. Arbuthnot, the Cliche Expert. I couldn't find any fulltext Arbuthnot online, but here's a sample for your reading pleasure.
*** Unless the AP really is using it as an interjection here. 



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I am trying to figure out what that GH is doing there unless Sheriff Pfau has a silent P but kept an unspelled affricate (fricative?) ... Surely (FAU) would have been better.

9:48 AM, June 25, 2011  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home