Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stunning and excessive restraint

So the local constabulary is being sued by a nearby-ish resident who contends that (a) he was unconstitutionally roughed up by the cops after he was thrown out of a sports bar on St. Patrick's Day and (b) he wasn't the guy who should have been thrown out in the first place. Our concern is with the second sentence here:

The lawsuit states that one officer used a Taser on (plaintiff) while multiple other officers tried to take him to the ground in a “horse-collar-type maneuver.” According to the lawsuit, the stunning and excessive restraint continued as officers pinned (plaintiff) on the ground.

The sentence at hand isn't in any way ungrammatical or wrong, Its problem, like many of the "wrong" sentences you'll encounter in daily life, is that it's right about several things at once. It doesn't exclusively mean that the restraint is considered both stunning and excessive, but that certainly is one of the things it means. And that's why we do editing: the art of asking "what did you say?" and "what did you mean?" by way of trying to reduce the dissonance between the two.

An editing textbook that claims to have "the" right answer, of course, is blowing smoke. There are a bunch of right answers. You could make clearer that "stunning" is a noun by flipping the subjects: "the excessive restraint and stunning continued." Or you could add another determiner: "The stunning and the excessive restraint continued." Or -- gasp! -- you could go ahead and admit that "taser" (or Taser, or taze) is a verb: "the tasing and excessive restraint continued." Which of those, if any, is the best answer is a matter of judgment. But all of them are less ambiguous than "stunning and excessive restraint."

That's a lot of space and time spent on a small sentence in a small paper. But editing, like baseball, is about a lot of small stuff done right over a long season. Most plays don't make the highlights on the evening news, because most plays involve moving your feet a few steps one way or the other; the batter is set down, all's right with the world, and your side goes into the dugout to try to score a few. Do small things right, and eventually big things will follow.

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Anonymous Picky said...

What caused me to stumble (apart from the stunning restraint) was the use of "restraint" at all in that sentence, given that the complaint is both that they used excessive restraint and that they weren't restrained enough.

5:57 AM, April 14, 2016  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I'm with Picky. "Stunning restraint" sounded like the cops' defense.

6:04 PM, April 14, 2016  
Blogger fev said...

I'm starting to lean toward Stunning Restraint as a band name.

10:45 AM, April 17, 2016  

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