Friday, February 24, 2012

Alone again, unnaturally

Accused Hutaree ringleader David Stone Sr. didn't want to kill police officers alone

Today's quiz: What's next?

-- he had no qualms about killing their wives and children, too, according to a taped conversation played in federal court Thursday.
Chalk up another entry in the category of stuff that isn't grammatically wrong; it's just correct about one too many things for its own good. An informal poll in the kitchen this morning found a 50-50 split on the clause before the dash. Language Czarina went for the intended meaning ("not just police officers"), but I was stuck on "by himself." Clearing up that sort of confusion, however slight it might seem in real life, is why we interpose editors between the people who write news and the people who read it.

More details to follow for those of you making travel plans for New Orleans, but the headline remains the same: Editing works. You don't have to set the brakes and sit immobile for hours on end while you ponder the meaning of life. But if a clause means two different things, you're doing it a courtesy if you ask it which one it prefers.



Blogger Pete said...

My read on it was that he planned to round up a few friends who would feel left out if they didn't get to kill with him. The other read only occurred to me after the em-dash, and at that point I had to shift gears. I now need a new clutch.

1:33 AM, February 25, 2012  
Anonymous the next Prescott Niles said...

And the alone problem is exacerbated by a faulty contrastive structure. If we give "Accused Hutaree ringleader David Stone Sr. didn't want to kill police officers alone" the benefit of the doubt and assume it wants to mean "Police officers weren't the only people Stone wanted to kill," then what we're expecting to hear in the second half of the sentence is that he wanted to kill other sorts of people too. But since "having no qualms about doing X" is totally not the same thing as "wanting to do X," you have to shift gears again when you realize the sentence is ignoring a pretty central ends/means distinction and thus doesn't really quite understand what it's trying to say.

12:50 PM, February 25, 2012  
Anonymous the next Prescott Niles said...

Or if, alternatively, it's not an ends/means issue—i.e., if killing officers' spouses and kids isn't just collateral damage to Stone but a crucial part of a program of intimidation (his statement is arguably ambiguous)—then discussion of qualms isn't the way to get at it.

1:03 PM, February 25, 2012  

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