A quiz for readers
1. Since their birth Nov. 19, doctors and nurses have noticed distinct differences in the babies.
2. [A direct quote in an article] "I feel like the little guy with the finger in the dyke."
3. What residents want to protect is the peaceful, almost gentile Riderwood of manicured lawns, rolling hills and eclectic housing.
4. Mrs. Payne, whose descendants arrived on the Mayflower, was born Eloise Chipman in Harrington, Del.
5. The sight of the pontiff praying with rabbis, llamas and imams sends these Vatican conservatives around the bend.
6. Although boys do get lice, they tend to prefer females.
You didn’t look, did you?
All these sentences, by the way, were written by professional journalists, and all were moved to the copy desk by assigning editors. That’s how I know about them.
1. Misplaced modifier. Move "since their birth Nov. 19" to follow "babies." English syntax tends to be positional; word order matters.
2. Although dyke has historically been merely an alternative spelling of dike, in our time, it is an opprobrious term for a lesbian. And further, you might keep in mind, the bulk of today’s undergraduates appear to be ignorant of the story of the heroic little Dutch boy.
3. Presumably the writer was reaching for genteel instead of gentile, though it is difficult to divine exactly what the intent was.
4. We’re confident that it was Mrs. Payne’s ancestors who landed at Plymouth Rock.
5. Tibetan Buddhist monks are lamas. Llamas are South American ruminants. Admittedly the original version of the sentence offers a more arresting image than the corrected one, but copy editors are always draining the life and interest out of stories.
6. While the nearest noun to they is lice, the parallelism of the sentence suggests that boys is the antecedent. To avoid ambiguity, change lice to the vermin. And for symmetry’s sake, make it boys and girls or males and females. (Please see comments below.)
How did you do?
If you got all six right, you, too, could have a future in the glamorous world of copy editing. Enjoying the quiet superiority of identifying other people’s flaws.