03 May 2006

Pet Peeves: Syntax

Take a look at this headline from the Christian Science Monitor: All gun control can't be local. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who read this and go, "Looks all right to me" (though they would be more likely to spell it "alright") and those who read this and say, "Arrrrgh! The syntax is all wrong; that doesn't mean what the writer wanted it to mean!"

The thesis of the editorial is that not all gun control can be local. This limits "all," since the "not" directly modifies it. The headline that actually got online, however, means something related but quite different: No gun control can be local. This is because the "cannot" contracted to "can't" applies to "All gun control."

When syntactic looseness like this gets in print, what little hair remains to me is in severe danger of being plucked out by its meager little roots. The imprecision, despite the fact that most readers will understand the phrase's meaning, frustrates me because I want to be able to express both of these senses, and if we collapse both of them into one construction, it will become less readily apparent what that construction means.

Please, please think of the word order, people! :-)

3 comments:

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The Lizard Queen said...

Oh, snap. I'm right there with you. And "alright" is one of the banes of my existence. It's one thing to see errors like these in my students' papers, but a proofreader at a major news outlet like the CSM should know better. Arrgh, indeed.

ian schmidt said...

"When syntactic looseness like this gets in print, what little hair remains to me is in severe danger of being plucked out by its meager little roots." *Chuckle, smirk*

"frustrates me because *blaugh* *blaugh*...if we collapse both of...*blaugh*...less readily apparent what that construction means." *Laugh, Snort, Hehaw*
Only an english major would even have such a thought begin to occour to them.

I must admit that these sorts of errors give me impulses to throw myself off cliffs and such... no, wait, I got treatment *coughgotalife* (different major), but, yes, i still sympathize with the plight of the downtrod' masses of english majors. (no, architecture nerds never have these sorts of fits about our pasion, of course not)

ah, but all in all, you are so right, i do actually agree ;-)