Verbs and worse

The first editorial (“Snapshots of war”) in the Guardian of 3 May 2004 surely surpassed previous Guardian records for the mangling of our beautiful language. The half-sentence “it should be recognised that the differences [plural] in language, religion and culture means [singular] that patrolling [sing.] the streets of Belfast and those of Basra are [pl.] hardly comparable” breaks several records, not only for the two mismatches of subject and verb, but also for the weird formulation that “patrolling” is, or are, “hardly comparable” (patrolling is hardly comparable with what other activity?) and that it is linguistic and other differences that “mean[s]” this lack of comparability. The whole thing reads like the winning entry in a New Statesman competition to write the most cruelly strangulated sentence expressing a simple thought.

Compared with that disaster, it seems almost like a picking of nits to complain of a resounding and unnecessary split infinitive (“General Sir Michael Jackson… was right to quickly condemn…”), yet another mismatch of subject and verb (“The events of the last two weeks … means the government will have to think…”), a typo which the most inexperienced teenage proof-reader should have spotted (“the British army had its enough of its own difficulties…”), an example of the writer losing track of his sentence (“a role for which they are rarely trained or equipped to perform” – you don’t perform for a role), and a hanging participle unattached by logic or anything else to its apparent partner (‘Coming just over a year since President Bush staged a photo opportunity to declare “Mission accomplished”, the mission seems further from being accomplished than ever’, where the mission manifestly isn’t “coming just over a year” since Bush’s declaration, which announced its supposed end, not its beginning). And how exactly does one “fuel” a “revulsion”? With unleaded? The image is as dead as that former parrot, if not deader.

All in one short editorial! Doesn’t the Guardian employ proof-readers or sub-editors any more? Sad, sad.

London, 1 July 2004

1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    < < a typo which the most inexperienced teenage proof-reader should have spotted ("the British army had its enough of its own difficulties..."), >>

    Most of your strictures are more than justified, but I must put in a plea of mitigation for this one. Of course it shouldn’t have made its way into print — that goes without saying. But as someone who regularly types several thousand words a day, often more quickly than I think reasonable even if my clients don’t always agree, I well know how easy it is for last-minute editing changes to leave anomalies in a text.

    Quite possibly the text that you quote originally read: (“the British army had its own difficulties in sufficient numbers…” and a minor change then went wrong.

    Yes, as I said, it shouldn’t happen. It does though and you may note that while I occasionally quote homophones and other language blunders from the media, I avoid criticising obvious typos. I make enough of them myself!


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