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Words, Feb. 25

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“After spending five nights in jail, the Jaguars cut Jones on March 16.” The jail must have been crowded, with a whole football team in there.

This is an example of a misplaced modifier, or dangler, as it's sometimes called. The writer intended to say that after Jones spent five nights in jail, the Jaguars cut him. (A pretty rough week for Jones.) But the modifying phrase isn't properly attached to the noun it's supposed to modify.

Garner's Modern American Usage gives an example of a dangler – “Watching from the ground below, the birds flew ever higher until they disappeared.”

“Usually,” he says, “recasting the sentence will remedy the ambiguity, illogic, or incoherence: ‘Watching from the ground below, we saw the birds fly higher until they disappeared.' ”

Garner says further that “In the normal word order, a participial phrase beginning a sentence (‘Walking down the street') should be directly followed by the noun acting as subject in the main clause (‘I saw the house'). When that word order is changed, as by changing the verb in the main clause to the passive voice, the sentence becomes illogical or misleading:

‘Walking down the street, the house was seen.' ”


A letter to the editor of the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette, concerning preservation of Bobwhite Quail, took an unexpected turn.

Arkansas's early history shows the need to protect native species, the writer says. Arkansas was once home, “to an estimated 25 million Common Snark,” he says. “These birds suffered due to over hunting, predation and habitat destruction.” No longer, he says, can we “thrill to the sight of waves of these vermillion birds darkening the sun as they fly to roost.”

The only snark I know of is the one created by Lewis Carroll in his 19th century poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.” And it was decidedly uncommon. “They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care, they pursued it with forks and hope; They threatened its life with a railway share, they charmed it with smiles and soap.”

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