Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Be the Editor

One of my favorite sailing bloggers, Carol Anne of Five O'Clock Somewhere, occasionally helps all of us amateur writers with advice on grammar and punctuation, such as her recent rant about Assault on apostrophes. I'm a bit of a pedant for getting such things right myself, though I'm sure I make some mistakes every time I put ten thumbs to sticky keyboard.

So for those of you who fancy yourselves as sticklers for style, ultraists for usage, and gurus of grammar, try out the following test, originally published as Red Pencils Ready? on the NY Times website...

Find the problems of grammar or usage in these passages from recent final editions of The Times. Of course, there are many ways one might try to improve some of these sentences. But for this quiz, I’m focusing on what I see as clear-cut errors in language use."

•••

1. Manny Ramírez also fits the description of a future Hall of Famer without a team, but his situation is different. Ramírez, 36, is still one of the best hitters in baseball and is hoping for a multiyear contract that will pay him about $25 million a year. He could have signed by now, he just wants a more significant paycheck to do so.

•••

2. The proportion of adults reading some kind of so-called literary work — just over half — is still not as high as it was in 1982 or 1992, and the proportion of adults reading poetry and drama continued to decline. Nevertheless the proportion of overall literary reading increased among virtually all age groups, ethnic and demographic categories since 2002. It increased most dramatically among 18-to-24-year-olds, who had previously shown the most significant declines.

•••

3. Purchased by investors at the height of the real estate boom in 2006, the management’s conversion plan appears unrealistic about meeting its sales and revenue goals, one lender is quoted as saying in court documents in the lawsuit between the owners. That lender, Apollo Real Estate Advisors, could begin foreclosure on Thursday if the owners do not resolve their internal dispute, one group of investors says in the court papers.

•••

4. It remains difficult to tease out which disabilities come from the illness as opposed to the I.C.U. stay, but scientists are beginning to worry about the effects of simply being in an intensive care unit … They have been particularly surprised by how quickly patients had lost strength. Now, it looks like what was lost may not completely come back, even years later.

“We are in the infancy of trying to figure this out,’’ Dr. Morris said.

•••

5. MOSCOW — The feud between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas prices and transit fees has left large swaths of Europe without heat. Yet, what is baffling is that the dispute has always seemed overly technical and easily resolved, if there was the slightest desire on either side. After all, both countries stand to profit from selling fuel to Europe.

•••

6. The novel’s pseudonymous author, Pauline Réage, kept her identity to herself until 1994, when she revealed herself to be a French journalist, editor and translator named Dominique Aury. The translator also went by a pseudonym, Sabine d’Estrée, whom some literary sleuths long suspected was Mr. Seaver, though he never admitted to it.

•••

7. Senate Democrats are watching to see if Republicans keep their amendments relevant. One proposed Thursday by Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, was viewed by Democrats as a way to torpedo the bill with antiunion language. The amendment was defeated easily, 59 to 38 — an outcome that illustrates the new Democratic muscle.

•••

8. “We did not choose but it was chosen for us that we would come together at this moment,’’ said the Rev. Alisa Lasater, the pastor of Capitol Hill United Methodist Church. “If we want to be the heart of our community, we need to learn to see into each others’ heart.’’

•••

9. Lately he [Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle] has made a concerted effort to tone down his language, and he insists that he has delegated much authority, but the heart of his message has not changed. Driscoll is still the one who gazes down upon Mars Hill’s seven congregations most Sundays, his sermons broadcast from the main campus to jumbo-size projection screens around the city.

•••

10. BOSTON — The only company charged with manslaughter after a woman died in a Big Dig tunnel collapse in 2006 has agreed to pay the state and city $16 million in exchange for the charge being dropped.

•••

Just to make things a little more challenging, the author also included one passage that looked all right to him, "to test for what we call “itchy-cursor syndrome” — the editor’s urge to make changes even if no change is needed."

See how many you can spot before checking the answers promised for tomorrow (Wednesday) on the NY Times website.

10 comments:

Redwing said...

1. Two independent clauses have to be joined with a semicolon (demonstrates a close relationship of ideas), a colon (if the second helps define the first), or a conjunction. So:

He could have signed by now; he just wants a more significant paycheck to do so.

2. The proportion of adults reading some kind of so-called literary work — just over half — WAS still not as high as it was in 1982 or 1992, and the proportion of adults reading poetry and drama continued to decline. Nevertheless the proportion of overall literary reading increased among virtually all age groups, ethnic and demographic categories since 2002. It increased most dramatically among 18-to-24-year-olds, who had previously shown the most significant declines.

•••

3. The sentence implies that "the management’s conversion plan was purchased by investors at the height of the real estate boom in 2006."

•••

4. Good!

•••

5. Something about the second sentence, but I'm not sure.

•••

6. She? He? Wha? Ah, ze crazy French!

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7. Parenthetical statements have to be offset at the same way at the start and the end, so here it has to be dashes OR commas.

The amendment was defeated easily, 59 to 38 — an outcome that illustrates the new Democratic muscle.

•••

8. “...we need to learn to see into each others’ hearts.’’

•••

9. Like #1, so:

Driscoll is still the one who gazes down upon Mars Hill’s seven congregations most Sundays: his sermons broadcast from the main campus to jumbo-size projection screens around the city.

•••

10.

So $32 million in all, 16 to each?

BOSTON — The only company charged with manslaughter after a woman died in a Big Dig tunnel collapse in 2006 has agreed to pay the state and city $16 million in exchange for the charge being dropped.

Tillerman said...

I'm glad someone took up the challenge. I thought some of these were quite tricky. I agree with some of Redwing's answers but not all. For what it's worth here is my stab at the Red Pen Test.

1. I agree with Redwing.

2. I agree that the tenses in the first sentence should agree, but my solution would be to change the second clause to present tense.

3. I think Redwing is right here though I missed that error on first reading. I was initially suspicious about those clumsy clauses indicating reported speech that end both sentences, but I couldn't really say why they were wrong.

4. I'm not sure this is right. Is that "..." correct? Don't some guides call for 4 dots if it's also the end of a sentence? I also don't like "had lost"; why not simply "lost"? And the comma after "Now" seems superfluous to me.

5. I also don't like the second sentence. Too many commas I think. Reads better if you leave out the comma after "resolved".

6. Yes. Very confusing. I assume the second use of "translator" refers to a different person than the first use of that word. But it's not clear.

7. I didn't spot the , and - confusion. I thought antiunion should be anti-union.

8. Yes I agree. A singular/plural confusion. And I'm also worried about the placement of the apostrophe in each others'. Is "each others" a plural that has an apostrophe after the s when it becomes a possessive? Or is "each other" always singular so that the correct form here is "each other's"?

9. I didn't see the issue that Redwing raises. I read the second clause as parenthetical to the first. Hmmmm.

10 I didn't see this one either. I agree it's confusing as to whether they paid $16m or $32m.

Anyone else want to chime in on this one before the NYT publishes their answers? Carol Anne?

Anonymous said...

5. swathEs.

Pat said...

1. Another easy fix is a "but"; it might be slightly easier to digest for sports readers.

5. Try the subjunctive, since the statement about the problem being solved easily is dependent upon a state of affairs that does not yet exist or is contrary to fact.

...if there WERE the slightest interest
or
WERE there the slightest interest
or
IF ONLY there WERE the slightest interest
etc.

Greg and Kris said...

I've got red pencil marks all over my monitor.

Redwing said...

the only way to get those marks out is to dunk the monitor in a big bucket of hot soapy water!

Tillerman said...

Good points.

Swathes feels more right to me too but I think swaths and swathes are just alternative spellings.

Yes. It should be the subjunctive. I did spot that earlier and forgot it when responding to Redwing.

tillerman said...

OK. The Times has now published the Quiz Answers. How did we do?

1. Redwing and Pat were right. Can't join those clauses with a comma. Needs a semicolon, a conjunction, or perhaps a dash says the Times guru.

2. We all missed this one. According to the Times, "Grammatically, the phrase “age groups, ethnic and demographic categories” isn’t parallel. There should be a modifier and noun for each of the three elements, or three modifiers for just one noun.

3. Redwing nailed this one. A classic dangling participle.

4. Another one we all missed. The Times like didn't like "like" used as a conjunction.

5. Kudos to Pat for noticing that there should be a subjunctive verb in the penultimate sentence.

6. Redwing and I got hung up on the apparently bisexual translator, but the Times' answer is that this is a who/whom error. Make it “who some literary sleuths long suspected was Mr. Seaver.” “Who” is the subject of “was.”

7. Redwing and I found two different apparent errors here, but according to the Times this was the trick question. They say this one is OK by them.

8. Ahah. A win for me. I was the only one to spot that "each other" can only be singular. Apparently the Times would also leave "we" seeing into each other's singular heart.

9. We all missed that a singular person cannot make a "concerted" effort. The word describes a joint or combined operation.

10. The Times admit that they are fighting a losing battle on this one but they don't like the "fused participle" in "in exchange for the charge being dropped" because the object of "for" is "being dropped" not "the charge". One of their proposed solutions sounds even more awkward to my ear (and even ambiguous when spoken) but The Times is The Times.

So how did the combined efforts of Proper Course blog-reading nit-picking readers do?

Looks like... Oops. Correct that. Looks as if we only got 4 out of 6. Oh well. It is only a blog.

Carol Anne said...

Post-mortem, since I was busy working while Pat was blogging ...

1. I got the comma splice.

2. I got the inappropriate tense shift, and I also spotted faulty parallelism.

3. In addition to the glaring dangling participle, there was also a comma splice.

4. In addition to using like as a conjunction, this example has an unnecessary tense shift (had lost where lost is more appropriate).

5. The subjunctive were is decidedly the better choice.

6. You don't say whom was, so the right pronoun case in this case is who.

7. Improper use of if when what's really meant is whether. We will see if the weather is better means that our ability to see depends upon the weather being better. We will see whether the weather is better means that we are going to make observations to determine the state of the weather. The Times got this one wrong.

8. The proper possessive is each other's, not each others'.

9. OK, I missed that one. It didn't occur to me that concerted implies more than one actor.

10. Technically speaking, the gerund being dropped should be preceded by a possessive, so it would be the charge's being dropped, but that leads to a whole lot of other confusion. I think that one would be just fine if let stand.

Captain John said...

So this is what Laser Sailors do in the winter in New England. I’m going to request that Capt. Kevin give you a voucher so you can fly out to Northern California to go sailing. You, my friend, are in serious need of some warm water and wind.

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