Saturday, July 19, 2014

That pesky grammar

We don't tend to put clauses like this on spot-the-error tests, because it's not "wrong." Its problem -- like many of the genuine grammar problems you run across in an honest day's editing -- is that it's correct about more than one thing: what Obama might have done (demand something) and what his demands might have done (prompt something).

English is pesky like that. In return for not having to work so hard at case endings and conjugations, we're stuck with a lot of things like "demand" and "prompt"  -- and "probe," while we're at it -- that are often pretty opaque about what they're trying to do in a sentence. This is an easy hed to parse, as long as you already know what the story beneath it says. I'm not sure that's a good long-term strategy.

Would I actually kick the hed back to the rim just because it's right about too many things? Yeah, probably.* To borrow an idea from James Carey, we're making a mistake if we confuse the newspaper with a 15-week, three-credit course in post-Soviet politics. The audience isn't -- and has no reason to be -- approaching today's fractional twists and developments that way. But a more practical approach might be: If you think the pace of the probe demanded by the head of the US executive branch into an event of this nature is the day's top story, ur doin it wrong.

* Bear in mind I'm sitting here enjoying the Ed Love show, a pint of ESB and the company of Language Czarina; I'm not closing in on the first-edition Sunday deadline. If you are -- cheers.

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