Sunday, October 16, 2005

An awful compound modifier

Right. So in case you were thinking your correspondent had gone completely troppo-descriptive, herewith a really bad hed that illustrates why we do need a punctuation mark that clarifies compound modification:

Governor's race ads invoke Hitler

Without some help, it's impossible to know what the writer* meant. Is race supposed to be acting as a noun -- "Ads in governor's race invoke Hitler" -- or as an attributive modifier -- "Governor's ads about race invoke Hitler" (which, since this is the AG's campaign for governor, is even worse)?

The quick cure, a hyphen between "governor's" and "race," illustrates why obsessive hyphenation is so much fun to complain about. "Governor's-race ads invoke Hitler" looks really, really dumb. Solution: Spend the extra space (which you have) and unstack the modifiers:

Ads in governor's race invoke Hitler

That way, at least, "governor's" isn't modifying "ads." Or use a less ambiguous attributive noun:

Virginia campaign ads invoke Hitler

Either way, stop thinking subscribers/customers/"consumers" (I'm really getting to hate that term) can read your mind. They can't.

* If the anonymous perp at wants to confess, we'll see what we can do about some form of intercession. Intersession, of course, is somebody else's problem.


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