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Add Your Own Criminal Sentence!

If you find a particularly terrible sentence somewhere, post it for all to see (go here and put it in the Comments section).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Criminal Sentence 643: Memories of Good Grammar

From a book I'm reading:

"Memories came flooding back of school days long ago."

Does this sentence sound odd to you? It does to me, especially "back of." Funny sounding or not, this sentence violates Strunk and White's Principle of Composition 20: "Keep related words together." The prepositional phrase "of school days long ago" goes with "memories," but the two are quite far away from one another.

Let's bring them back together:

"Memories of school days long ago came flooding back."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Criminal Sentence 642: Filter Out Bad Grammar

From an article about changing the water filters in your home:

"If not regularly maintained, bacteria can grow in the canisters."

This sentence suggests that homeowners should regularly maintain bacteria. The sentence meant to say that homeowners should regularly maintain the canisters (which contain the filters). Regular readers know that this error is called a misplaced modifier. And they know how much I hate such goofs!

Let's fix the sentence:

"If the canisters are not regularly maintained, bacteria can grow in them."

Now, stop maintaining bacteria in your home and change your water filter today!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Criminal Sentence 641: What Is a Correct Question Mark?

A headline about Pope Francis:

New pope revives question: What is a "Latino?"

Perhaps it's true that someone of Italian heritage is not a Latino, but it is definitely true that this question mark is in the wrong place. It should be at the end:

What is a "Latino"? 

If the item in quotation marks is a question, the question mark goes inside; otherwise, outside.

Here are two correct examples:

She asked, "What is your name?" ("What is your name" is a question, so the question mark goes inside.)

What is the meaning of "doofus"? ("Doofus" is not a question; the question is the entire sentence, so the question mark goes outside.)


Politicians Can't Spell

From today's paper:

The Republic | Sat Mar 23, 2013 10:43 PM
How do you spell that? ... Apparently spelling is blind to party lines. Both Democrats and Republicans have had a little trouble recently. It happens to the best of us, but some of the flubs were on key message words these politicos might want to pay a little closer attention to next time.
Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Frank Camacho sent out a statement from Acting Executive Director DJ Quinlan talking about “Barrack Obama.” Never good to spell the big boss’ name wrong.
House Speaker Andy Tobin via Twitter commented on the “Medicade Expansion.” If you’re gonna knock it, you’d better first learn to spell it.
The Conservative Business League apparently needs to employ an English teacher. According to the league’s website, its board of directors includes Bob Thomas, one of people behind the recall effort of Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell, and Rod Ludders, who “hales” from Illinois. We’re glad he’s feeling so well.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Criminal Sentence 640: Not Like Flies

From a book about fruit flies:

"Like flies, our memories are initially short-lived..."

This sentence states that our memories are like flies. Perhaps memories buzz and flit about in our heads, but the writer did not mean to say this. He meant to compare the memories of flies with the memories of humans. We can fix this in a number of ways. The two I like best are these:

"Like the memories of flies, our memories are initially short-lived..."
"Like the memories of flies, those of humans are initially short-lived..."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Criminal Sentence 639: A Male What?

According to my DVR, tomorrow's "Project Runway" has the contestants making clothes for a "male review."

I found this to be rather amusing. What are the men going to review?

Ah, someone should have written "male revue," which is a show where men gyrate around. :)

I will review the show as soon as it records!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Criminal Sentence 638: It's Just Lunch

From something I am editing (space related):

"...the demanding requirements of lunching humans into orbit..."

This was part of a very long sentence.

Are lunching humans demanding? I suppose I would demand no mustard but lots of mayo on my sandwich.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Criminal Sentence 637: Fire Experts or Just Experts?

From something I'm editing (an analysis of the Challenger explosion):

"Even so, in trials by fire experts voiced concerns and created opportunities to reconsider."

When I first read this sentence, I thought perhaps it was discussing "fire experts." If that were the case, the sentence would need a subject--who voiced concerns? A comma will clear up any confusion:

"Even so, in trials by fire, experts voiced concerns and created opportunities to reconsider."

Many times, a comma after a short phrase at the beginning of a sentence is unnecessary:

"In January I visited Australia."

If you want to use a comma, though, that's fine too:

"In January, I visited Australia."  

This kind of comma is often optional (unless you're following an in-house style guide that mandates you use one). I personally like to use a comma most of the time in such cases; others may disagree.

In the "fire expert" sentence, though, I feel a comma is necessary because it helps the reader understand the sentence faster.

P.S. This post is about commas, not clichés, but I do not care for the phrase "trial by fire" in this sentence. Perhaps the writer could have thought of something more original.