September 29, 2014

Palm Off vs. Pawn Off

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Can you "pawn off" some unwanted item onto a friend or loved one? Not really, no. Here are the details ...

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A Dangler to Leave Dangling?
Posted by June on September 29, 2014
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I’ve talked before about danglers. A dangler occurs whenever modifying phrase or clause isn’t immediately next to the noun it modifies.  So in “Skipping through the streets, the thought occurred to me that skipping is dangerous,” you have a dangler because the participial phrase “skipping through the streets” isn’t supposed to describe the “the thought.” It’s supposed to describe “me.” Yet it’s not as close to “me” as it could be.

These types of danglers are often -- very often -- worth fixing. But there’s one particular flavor of dangler that I’m not so sure about.

“Open Tuesday through Sunday, the restaurant’s menu features small plates and gourmet bites.”

Now, technically, this is a dangler because the noun modified by the introductory phrase is not the one that phrase aims to modify, though at first glance it seems to be.

“Open Tuesday through Sunday.” obviously refers to the restaurant. And because mention of that restaurant is the first word to follow that phrase, it’s easy to think that this is not a dangler.

But it is. Why? Because in this sentence, the word “restaurant” is not working as a noun. It’s working as a modifier. The real head of the noun phrase “the restaurant’s menu” is in fact the menu. “Restaurant's,” because it’s a possessive, is functioning adjectivally as what’s called a possessive determiner. Grammatically speaking, it’s an adjective. The true noun is “menu.”

So technically we’re saying that the menu itself is open Tuesday through Sunday.

But is this really a problem? Is this really worth fixing? Or is it so crystal clear that there’s no need to recast the sentence?

I’m not sure. I’m never sure in these cases. Usually, I try to fix them: “Open Tuesday through Sunday, the restaurant offers a menu of small plates and gourmet bites.” But as often as not, there’s a price to pay for the rejiggering -- awkwardness or perhaps a slight straying from what the writer really meant. 

So whether to fix this type of dangler is anybody’s guess.

 

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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