Friday, April 03, 2015

Wash and dry

The first sentence here isn't a bad sentence (aside from the part about the baby at the Last Supper, which sounds just a little apocryphal). It's a perfectly good sentence. Problem is, it's two perfectly good sentences:

Pope Francis
(washed) (dried) and (kissed)
the feet of 12 inmates and a baby

Pope Francis
(washed) (dried) and (kissed the feet of)
12 inmates and a baby

Which actually makes more sense, in light of the "willingness to serve others and to cleanse them completely" in the last sentence.

I'm inclined to cast this as an edited-in error. I can only find seven hits for that fairly distinctive sequence, all from last spring and none from what you'd call the "mainstream" press. Here's the AP this year:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates and a baby at Rome's main prison Thursday in a pre-Easter ritual meant to show his willingness to serve. He asked them to pray that he, too, might be cleansed of his "filth."
As the inmates wept, Francis knelt down, poured water from a pitcher onto one foot apiece, dried it and then kissed it, re-enacting the ritual that Jesus performed on his apostles before he was crucified.
Somebody's also run across the bizarre sub-peeve that holds that "re-enact" is redundant, though the OED takes the sense of a "dramatic reproduction" back to the 19th century. And the whole-body wash doesn't sound quite so literal in the seventh graf:
Speaking off-the-cuff as he has done for the past three years on Holy Thursday, Francis explained the foot-washing ceremony is meant to show Jesus' willingness to serve others like a slave, to cleanse and purify them completely.
All told, the editing time allotted to this brief didn't add much to the sum of human knowledge, seeming rather to subtract from it.
Much of the bad grammar you'll attend to during the average editing shift isn't "wrong" -- it's just right about more than one thing at a time. And if you're off on some particular snipe hunt of your own -- tracking and killing the complementizer* "that," for example -- while the pope is hosing people off in a prison, you are (to be kind about it) not part of the solution.

* AP calls it a conjunction, which is fine. I don't care what you call it, as long as you read the fairly sensible entry and apply it cluefully.

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