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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).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Criminal Sentence 396: Alma Mater Uh-Oh

From a Web site associated with my alma mater:

"We definitely came in knowing that Army was on a role."


"On a roll" means doing well.

"On a role" means you made a mistake!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Criminal Sentence 395: The Meaning of "The"

From a history book:

"Edward's great Abbey of Westminster became the spot where ... every monarch would be crowned except the 20th-century king, Edward VIII."

This sentence makes it appear that there was only one 20th-century king. Of course we know there were many. If you just delete the comma, all is fixed.

Let's see another example: "The 19th-century writer Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist." Dickens was one of many 19th-century writers. If he were the only one, we would have to write "The 19th-century writer, Charles Dickens, wrote Oliver Twist."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Criminal Sentence 394: Unpositive Appositive

From a history book I'm reading:

"His wife Bertha was a Christian, a Frankish princess who had brought her own chaplain from Paris."

The description "a Frankish princess who had brought her own chaplain from Paris" is what's called an appositive, meaning it gives more information about something. For example, in the sentence "Ellen DeGeneres, a comedian, is a judge on American Idol," "a comedian" is an appositive. The sentence wouldn't sound right if it read like this: "Ellen DeGeneres is a judge on American Idol, a comedian."

That's the same problem as in the incorrect sentence. The appositive would sound a lot better in the middle: "His wife Bertha, a Frankish princess who had brought her own chaplain from Paris, was a Christian."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Criminal Sentence 393: Less Lesson

From a book I'm reading:

“Worse, having been promised some lowering of the high wartime land taxes, the Parliament men were clamoring to pay less taxes, not more.”

I'm surprised this slipped through. I know we all use "less" when speaking informally, but in writing we need to be more grammatical, not less.

"Less" goes with uncountable items, such as sugar and milk.
"Fewer" goes with countable items, such as cookies and vegetables.

You pay less tax but fewer taxes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Poll Results 88

Here was the question:

What's the primary reason you give up on a book?
Don't care about the characters.
9 (18%)
Plot is boring.
19 (38%)
Too many characters/book is confusing.
8 (16%)
Grammar is off/written badly.
7 (14%)
1 (2%)
I always finish books no matter how bad they are.
6 (12%)

I'm with most of you, though I wish I could stick it out like 12% of you. But I feel life is too short to read bad books.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Criminal Sentence 392: Quickly!

From a parenting article:

"You've probably been told not to compare your child with anyone else's. But when she really seems to be lagging behind other kids, it's important to get her the help she needs quickly."

I imagine that this imaginary girl who is having trouble needs help quickly, but I think the article was trying to say that parents need to get her help quickly. The problem is that the adverb "quickly" is ambiguously next to the word "needs"; as I just said, it goes with "get her help."

See this post.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Criminal Sentence 391: The Rhythm Method

A few sentences from a book I'm reading:

"Charlie had three boys and two girls. The oldest boy was a sailor, the next was a fireman, who rode proudly on one of the new fire engines sent over from London. Young Sam helped his father."

I felt a disconnect when I got to "who rode..." because the sentences lost their rhythm. I wanted to see something like this:

"The oldest boy was a sailor, the next was a fireman, and young Sam helped his father."

The writer could have placed the fire engine detail elsewhere.

So not only do writers have to think about their grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax, but they have to think about the rhythm of the words.

This writing stuff is hard!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Criminal Sentence 390: HIPAA HIPPA Hooray (Boo)

From a medical release:

Your Responsibilities Under HIPAA

In order to safeguard your rights under HIPPA...

It seems that someone was thinking about the word "hippopotamus"while typing HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Those of you in the medical field should remember to stay away from the zoo!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Criminal Sentence 389: Gone Fishing (for the correct spelling)

From a book I'm reading:

"The whole colony was waiting with baited breath."

No fish here.

Not only is this a cliche, but it's spelled wrong! If you must use a cliche (well, you don't have to, do you?), please spell it right: "bated breath."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Poll Results 87

The question:

What's wrong here? "Being a detective lieutenant's wife has not leeched all rationality from my brain."

18 (24%)
22 (29%)
7 (9%)
Two of the above
28 (37%)

Well, I was going to say spelling only: "leeched" should be "leached."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Criminal Sentence 388: You'd Better Rite Right

Took a little longer today to come across a real doozie. From someone's comment in a blog:

"the right-of-passage"

Did someone ask permission to pass through somewhere or is this botched syntax?

Of course, if it's on this blog, it's botched syntax! It's a rite of passage, silly.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Criminal Sentence 387: Clothes Make the Dandy

From a book I am reading (with British spelling):

"Compared to the cheap travelling clothes of these passengers, he was quite the dandy."

This sentence compares "cheap clothes" to "he." Uh-oh.

Here's a better version:

"He was quite the dandy compared to these cheaply clothed passengers."

The sentence makes the writer!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Criminal Sentence 386: Gender Bender

From a book I am reading:

"Tall and thin, with jet-black hair combed dramatically away from his face, she found herself momentarily distracted by his cheekbones and lips as she approached him."

This sentence doesn't work unless the he/she is one person, which is not possible. In other words, misplaced modifier. Who has jet-black hair? The man, not "she."

Who wants to rewrite it? Feel free to make it two sentences if you can't cram everything in there. Let's call the players Louise and Harry.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Criminal Sentence 385: A Suspicious Sentence

From a novel I couldn't bring myself to finish because it was terrible (and not just because of this sentence):

"You'd look a less suspicious in my eyes if you did [cooperate]."

You can tell from this sentence that it was edited, but someone forgot to reread it after making the changes. I bet it originally said "a little less suspicious," but someone correctly determined that this was a little bit wordy. So I can't blame the author, but she did do a hack job on the rest of the book (I have to admit I reached only p50 or so). I usually give books more of a chance, but when I find myself skimming pages and saying to myself, "I don't care what happens," then I know I need to move on.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poll Results 86

This was the question:

Is this sentence correct? "She effected an odd pose."
23 (30%)
52 (69%)

Congratulations to 69% of you. The correct word is "affected," as in "assumed the character or attitude of."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Criminal Sentence 384: Typo Trio

Three errors for your enjoyment/horror:

1. Did you hear about the suspected flub on Wall Street yesterday?

From my paper: "No one was sure what happened, other than automated orders were activated by erroneous trades. One possibility was that a trader accidentally placed an order to sell $16 billion, instead of $16 million, in futures, and that was enough to trigger sell orders across the market."

2. How about this one from the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

From my paper: "Former 'Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was guest of honor this week at a ceremony in which 'Julia Luis-Dreyfus was presented a star; the star was temporarily fixed for the event, reports."

These one came courtesy of Mom and Dad:

3. A Disney boo-boo:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reader Question: Hyphen

Should a hyphen appear in agreed-upon here:

Since 2005, TRP has presented a strategic plan to the
company and has worked in partnership to accomplish
agreed-upon goals.


Yes! It is a compound adjective describing "goals."

You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Criminal Sentence 383: Long Baseball Game?

From my local newspaper (about the Diamondbacks):

"Ian Kennedy pitches 62-3 scoreless innings..."

I'd watched the game but still had to stare at this for a minute before I understood what it was talking about. I knew the game hadn't gone 62 and something innings. Try 9. It turns out that a hyphen isn't a slash: 6 2/3 innings.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Criminal Sentence 382: I Love Des(s)ert

Two sentences on the same page of a novel by a bestselling author:

1) "At least I got you to stay through desert."
2) "In another hour a younger crowd would straggle in for desert or fries after the movie let out."

A third sentence with the same error appeared near the end of the book.

When I saw the first sentence, I chalked it up to an error. The same error twice more made me wonder if the author and/or editor really thought that you spell "dessert" with one "s."

What do you think?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Poll Results 85

Here was the question:

Do you accept this sentence? "Here are a few of his wisdoms." (Refers to advice of a dead author)

17 (25%)
50 (74%)

I'm with the 74%. "Wisdom" is an uncountable noun (as are "sugar" and "thoughtfulness"), so it doesn't make sense to count how many pieces of advice the dead author gave.

It would have been better to say, "Here is some of his wisdom."