Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Syntactic flexibility

Well, I'll be danged. That sentence I posted about yesterday, and for which the poll is still running, struck me as profoundly ungrammatical. And Mrs. Verb, who knows as much about syntax as I do about phonology (see the opacity posts, where I was clearly way out of my depth, and admitted as much), agreed powerfully.

But almost half of the responses so far say it sounds fine to them. I assume that peevologists and even copy editors would pull their hair out over such a sentence, but there's only one vote for calling it irredeemable.

10 comments:

Mr. Verb said...

Great ... as soon as I posted this, a bunch of votes came in saying it's not so good! Still, I'm surprised at the number of people who find it fine.

Derry said...

I voted "needs more help" but that was the closest I could get "needs a single word changed but not that one". My problem is with the "which"; I'd prefer "while" or "but" or "although". They all have different nuances and I don't know what the writer was aiming for.
[British English speaker]

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Good point on the 'which', of course.

mighty red pen said...

Mmm. If this came across my editorial desk, I wouldn't pull my hair out but I'd certainly be furrowing my brow in puzzlement and strongly urging a rewrite. Syntactically awkward? Yes. Wrong? I'm not sure.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. The meaning intended meaning is utterly clear, of course, but 'awkward' doesn't quite capture my reaction to it ... I'm glad you'd want a rewrite!

The Ridger, FCD said...

I voted "fine" but I do agree with you in principle. The thing is, English speakers are used to omitting anything their hearers can be expected to be able to supply with minimum effort - part of "omit needless words" I guess ;-) - and English listeners are used to supplying. There's really only one thing that could reasonably come after "than" here. Also, your suggested fix is worse (to me) than the original. If I were editing this for a formal article, I'd say "while McCain is seen being as less than such" (or "less than one").

The Ridger, FCD said...

urk. "is seen AS BEING", of course, not "being as".

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Yeah, my easy patch was a bust. One vote out of over 40 so far.

I hadn't thought of the Strunk & White angle as something that would point toward this as a reasonable strategy, but that's intriguing at least.

Laura Payne said...

Hello Mr. Verb,
I look forward to seeing the end results to your poll. I am not telling you what my vote was.
Would you like to take a walk in the words sometime? http://www.walkinthewords.blogspot.com

Mr. Verb said...

Oh, yeah. You know, I had seen that blog a few times before I finally caught that it was WORDS not WOODS in the title. Sometimes I'm slow that way.

It's a nice blog, even nicer with the pup. I hope the Wings don't carry him around for the year hoisting him while they skate around.

Yeah, I guess I should do something on that poll. I wasn't expecting so many responses -- I NEVER do stuff that that on blogs normally -- but the results are kind of interesting.

Thanks.
Mr. V