Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Stop dangling those modifiers. Stop, stop, stop, stop, STOP.

Today, in my official capacity as the curator of the HorseBack UK Facebook page, I was going to use the word disinterested.

After some consideration, I deleted it. I was using it in its correct sense, of having no skin in the game. I worried that some people would read it in its new meaning of not interested, and the whole sentence would collapse into a mess of misinterpretation.

I felt very sad about this. I mourn disinterested. I think it is lost to us.

I am not against language shifting and renewing itself. I understand it is a febrile, living thing, and that is part of its thrill. I adore the new use the young people have made of random, which no longer merely means having no specific pattern or purpose, but also weird, unknown and unexpected, often in a comical way. (Interestingly, the young people themselves have already started a backlash against the overuse of this word, and are busy restoring it to its original sense. I still like it.) What saddens me is the loss of a word which cannot be replaced. Nothing else quite gets the precise meaning of disinterested: neutral and impartial carry different nuances.

Nor am I against breaking the strict rules of grammar. I often start a sentence, even, daringly, a paragraph, WITH A PREPOSITION. Strunk and White would faint. For me, the sole, shining purpose of grammar is clarity. Clarity in writing is everything. Play around with language and form all you want: be antic; be bold. But never, ever let the sense be lost.

This is why I grow so wild with rage when I see a dangling modifier. At its worst, the dangler confuses and muddies. The actual intention of the sentence may be completely lost. At its best, the dangler clunks hideously on the ear, even if the sense may be discerned.

I saw two today. One was on the front page of The Telegraph. The Telegraph. Are the subs doing it for a bet? The other was in a newspaper column written by an author and journalist who has been using words in a professional capacity for twenty years. Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?

Really. There are days when, if it were not for the spreading sweetness of Red the Mare, I would give up. She, of course, would never dangle a modifier in her life. The duchess in her would not permit it.


Too tired for pictures today. Just the hills, and my darling Minnie the Moocher:

13 Nov 1

13 Nov 2

Wrote this at the end of a long day. 1169 words of secret project; two other pieces of work; usual equine activity. Whenever I rant about grammatical crimes, I fear that there shall be at least one typo or missing word or mistaken comma. Just so everyone can point and laugh. My eyes are squinting too much to proof-read with any accuracy. But if the howler is there, I suppose it shall simply be the gods of hubris, warning me not to flap my wings. They are flinty and ruthless, like that.

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