Sunday, October 07, 2012

Elongateded yellow fruit

Looks like a bit of hypercorrection in the lede here:

For decades the native prairie plant with tomato-like vines, and marbled-sized fruit covered in thin husks, has sprawled across the Kansas prairie in relative obscurity.

Pause a moment to admire the preposed elongated yellow fruit syndrome (introducing the tomatillo as "the native prairie plant with tomato-like vines," &c), then think about "marbled-sized." It looks as if someone reached into the hyphenation bag and pulled out the wrong kind of rule. Adjective-participle combinations ("even-tempered") are fine, but this isn't one of them. We're not talking about the adjective "marbled," as in a nicely marbled piece of beef. We have in mind a fruit about the size of a marble. That's not just a different part of the food pyramid; it's a different part of speech altogether.

Conveniently, nouns form compounds with participles as readily as adjectives do. A fruit the size of a marble is "marble-sized," just as a state shaped like a mitten is "mitten-shaped." When in doubt, try an analogy. If we were talking about a fruit the size of a basketball, it'd be a "basketball-sized fruit," not a "basketballed-sized fruit."

Wondering about the commas? Look to the second graf:

But scientists from around the world are now noticing the wild tomatillo, and wondering if it might provide a major medicinal breakthrough.

The War on Editing doesn't just hit editors. It punishes writers as well. In this case, it looks as if the writers aren't getting the support they need. Someone should attend to that.

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Anonymous Jan Freeman said...

Well, I would certainly remove the commas in that first sentence. But I often use the comma in the second sentence, though I know it's taboo to a pure syntactic punctuator. I consider it optional and often useful, and I almost never heard an objection from an editor (when I had editors).

12:46 PM, October 09, 2012  
Anonymous raYb said...

I generally agree about the second comma, but anyone editing that pile should certainly spend more time on the words and worry less about the commas. More people are likely to trip and fall in the marbled hallway than over an extra comma.

8:04 PM, October 10, 2012  

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