Friday, August 24, 2007

Lucy the Pig rides again

Here's another parallelism fault for your consideration (Lucy, as some of you refugees might recall, is the Poster Pig of parallel structure, immortalized in this true-life example: "There will be a petting zoo, pony rides and children can meet Lucy the pig"). It's worth noting as a reminder that copyeds are outgunned in most disputes with writers. We're usually going to lose if it comes down to a matter of "I think this sounds weird" vs. "well, it's my sentence, and I don't."

We boost our chances a lot when we can name and describe the fault at issue. We've bolstered the idea that language is governed by rules rather than whim, and we've increased the chance that the writer will walk away with some idea of how not to sin again -- which, if we're lucky, will end up making our job easier. So the point of this sermon: Don't hesitate to challenge a fault, even if it's in the lede story. As in this example:

The crime ended the life of a staunch community activist and widow of Detroit artist and art teacher T.J. Williams.

See the coordination problem at the end of the prepositional phrase? The first object is indefinite: "a staunch community activist." The second is logically definite (she's "the" widow of the artist), but because there's no change in the article, she comes out being two indefinite things: a staunch activist and a widow of the said artist. Urgh.

The copyed isn't free of sin here either, of course. The hed (it was indeed the 1A lede), "Firebomb attack kills widow in her home," puts the victim's marital status ahead of everything else in the significance queue: her activism and the social/cultural status of her late hubby, to name two that are more prominent in the text. If widow-killing had some sort of special status in the Detroit metro area, that'd be one thing, but here it just looks like bush-league sexism. Let's not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen. There is a definite advantage to knowing those obscure (or at least obscure-to-writers) grammatical terms. As an editor, there are few things I hate more than "I like it better this way" from a line editor or a writer who's just been told her sentence doesn't make any sense. Drives me up a wall. Sure, it's her name on the top of the story, but it's my job to catch stupid-sounding sentences. I'll take any ammunition I can get in this fight.

11:55 PM, August 24, 2007  

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