The Grammar Grouch has been so busy lately venting his spleen on our sorry excuse for a president and a GOP Congress afraid to counter him that the grousing over grammar has been put on the back burner to simmer.
Alas, a spate of miscues in the Grouch’s local news organ has aroused him from his grammatical desuetude, and he is about to expound. These three deficiencies in the Palm Beach Post were wrought mainly by copy editors, who may work out of Atlanta or Dayton or God knows where following newspapers’ revamped production methods due to the rapid decline of readership.
The two salient errors were related to syntax, i.e., sentence or phrase structure. One was a dangling modifier, or misplaced modifier, or whatever you want to call it. The point is, it hung there like a piece of mistletoe at a Mike Pence party of married couples.
One was serious enough to place the newspaper in danger of legal repercussions, in this scribe’s humble opinion. Herewith:
“A 20-year-old man died after authorities say he was beaten by another inmate in a panhandle jail. The Panama City News Herald reported that Jordan Whitsett was taken off of life support on Friday, days after he was found beaten by Bay County jail officers.” Aside from the capitalization error – panhandle is a geographical entity and requires the upper case, Panhandle – I doubt the writer meant to indicate that Bay County jail officers beat the man. What hesh (my gender-neutral pronoun) meant to say, judging by the first sentence, was that “life support was removed days after Bay County jail officers found the man had been beaten.”
Big difference there. Gotta be careful about the arrangement of the words.
Two days later, this headline appeared in the Post: “From toddler to teen, music has been a constant in student’s life.” While this is less egregious that the aforementioned problem, it nonetheless is awkward. “From toddler to teen, music …” As they say in TV sports film replay, stop right there. “From toddler to teen” does not refer to music, as the syntax indicates. The phrase refers to the student. Music has not gone from toddler to teen. The student has gone from toddler to teen. A clearer headline would have read: “From toddler to teen, student has made music a constant in his life.” It has only one more space, and, with the ability to manipulate fonts these days, likely could be adjusted to fit. Or: “From toddler to teen, student’s life has been filled with music.” That has four fewer spaces.
Ya gotta punc-tchu-ate the pause-itive.
This last example of lax writing is bad punctuation. “Jack the Bike Man is a not for profit organization founded by Samuel H. ‘Jack’ Hairston III in 2007, however Jack has been called Jack the Bike Man, since 1999.” This is a compound sentence. It’s okay to combine them with a conjunction, but however is commonly followed by a comma, probably because it is a three-syllable word and begs for a pause. But a comma both before and after the word makes the sentence confusing, because it’s not entirely clear whether however goes with the first part of the sentence or the second part. Better to divide the sentence into two sentences: “Jack the Bike Man is a not for profit organization founded by Samuel H. ‘Jack’ Hairston III in 2007. However, Jack has been called Jack the Bike Man, since 1999.”
The other punctuation problem is the comma after Bike Man. It jerks the reader to a stop, though none is called for: “However, Jack has been called Jack the Bike Man since 1999.”
Minor issues, you might say. Perhaps, but they all add up to a sloppiness that has become rampant since the advent of texting and tweeting and all the other shortcuts in a coarsened society that cares little anymore about craftsmanship and refinement of expression.