May 18, 2015
MetaconceptsTOPICS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, WRITING STYLE
Ever noticed a correlation between terms like "approach," "level" and "concept" and really, really bad writing? Welcome to the wonderful world of metaconcepts, which go a long way to explain why academic writing can be so awful.
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My Favorite DanglerPosted by June on May 18, 2015
Danglers, as we’ve discussed here before, are modifying phrases that aren’t placed close enough to the noun they’re supposed to be modifying. Like "Walking on the beach, my shoulders got sunburned.” This is considered a dangler because shoulders don’t walk, though the juxtaposition of “walking” and “shoulders” makes it look like they do.
To play it safe, always make sure that the noun nearest to your modifying phrase is the one actually being modified: “Walking down the beach, I got a sunburn on my shoulders.”
Some danglers aren’t a real problem – at least not in terms of reader comprehension. Funny as it was to infer that my shoulders could walk, no one who read that sentence would have taken it that way.
Other danglers can pose a serious problem for comprehension: “Drawing his last breath, Curly laughed as his bullet lodged between Tex’s eyes.” Wait, was Curly dying? Or was it Tex? Maybe both? The reader deserves to know, and it's the writer's job to make it immediately clear.
But still other danglers are just good fun, none more so than the ones that start with “As a child.”
“As a child, Sally’s father used to punish her for her irreverence.”
I picture Sally’s dad not long out of diapers, marching around a bossing a little girl he could not possibly have yet fathered. So, yeah, sometimes danglers are just good fun.
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more
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