Friday, November 12, 2010

Misplaced Modifiers

Most grammatical errors are distracting, frustrating, or confusing.

Not so the misplaced or dangling modifier. Usually, they're funny. Particularly to English teachers. They crack us up because the sentences almost always make sense -- but they make the wrong sense. They say something the author never intended. (What's a misplaced or dangling modifier? It's a phrase or word that the author has put in the wrong spot, so that it applies to the wrong thing. An example from Groucho Marx, who also liked them because they're funny: I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I'll never know. The phrase in my pajamas is the modifier, and it's been misplaced, so it sounds like the elephant, rather than Groucho, is wearing them.)

I collect misplaced modifiers. Because the press is so good at them (it's the journalists' most common grammatical goof), and I'm also a news junkie, my collection is large.

The first modifier I put into my collection was this one from a news story about a fire: "Suspected to have been started by an arsonist, the fire investigation team made up of the California Department of Forestry, the USDA Forest Service and Rancho Cucamonga Fire continue their search for the person (s) responsible."

Wow: The fire investigation team was started by an arsonist. That goes into the "it takes one to know one" file, I suppose.

I added a new one today.

Here it is, from a headline in the Southwest Riverside News Network:

State fines Murrieta hospital after failing to follow proper surgical procedures, policies

What a gem!

The state failed to follow proper procedures? Really? It's pretty petty to take it out on some hospital, if you ask me. Shame on the state. Leave the poor hospital alone.

I may start posting my collection here as it develops. These are sometimes too funny to keep to myself.