Friday, May 22, 2009

Grammar Moses

Today’s lesson: dangling participles.

A participle should describe the grammatical subject of the main clause. When it doesn’t you get a dangling or misrelated participle. Fowler gives the example: “Recently converted into apartments, I passed by the house where I grew up.” There’s also this one quoted in Private Eye in 1988, “Being a vegan bisexual who’s into Nicaraguan coffee picking and boiler suits, you could safely assume that I vote Labour.” You get the idea.

There are some fine examples closer to home thanks to Barney McDonald, who reviews movies for the Sunday Star-Times and is an absolute master of the dangling participle. In his 17 May review (not online yet) of Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long, he writes:
A phenomenally talented actress, [. . .] Thomas’s fluent French and world-weary eyes are undeniably compelling.
Which is to say, her fluent French is a phenomenally talented actress, as are her eyes.
An acclaimed novelist, his film embraces. . .
His film is a novelist.

Elsewhere McDonald he tells us of the film’s “impenetrable tone”, and about a man who buries “his own head” in a book. His own head, you see, not anybody else’s.

I’m told they have sub-editors at the SST, but you’d never know it.


David Cohen said...

"Impenetrable tone" seems okay, assuming McDonald is is saying something about the film's inflections being hard to comprehend. Also, you don't always get a misrelated participle, or a lousy line, by constructing a sentence in the fashion you describe. Take a sentence like, "However, Thomas’s fluent French and world-weary eyes are undeniably compelling." Now correct me if I'm wrong, but the "however" here is an inferential participle, and it works just fine.

Stephen Stratford said...

I see you and raise you Bernard's latest from the 24 May edition:

"Considering the film is shot in Victoria, the burning trees and fleeing animals cannot help but recall the recent devastation in the Australian state."

I bet they can't.

David Cohen said...

I suggest we share the pot.

For the next dealer's call, may I direct your attention to a fuller exegesis on the collected criticism of Bernard Kael:

Unknown said...

Gentlemen, gentlemen - the place to go for spectacular sub-editing is the Yahoo/Telecom home page. There's a headline on today's one telling us 'Woman attacked by river'. It turns out she was attacked near a river, and by another human. Still, it is a warning to keep an eye on that water.. You never know, you just never know, that when you turn your back, for a second, and one of those vicious, crafty creeks will up and hang one on you.