McIntyre Friday complains
When English lost most of its inflections, word order became crucial to meaning, and that is why I continue to grumble at a minor but nonetheless irritating quirk of journalese: the placement of the adverb of time.
To a journalist—this must have been taught somewhere in a journalism school, and then the monkey-see, monkey-do mechanism took over—this sentence looks right: President Obama Wednesday announced a new jobs plan. To people whose English has not been corrupted by reading newspapers, the adverb of time, particularly the day of the week used as an adverb, follows the verb: President Obama announced a new jobs plan Wednesday.
I suppose that this unnatural syntax is supposed to suggest freshness and immediacy. Feh.
But the placement of the adverb can also subtly alter meaning (quite part from the impression that the president’s surname is Wednesday). A few days ago I edited an article about a criminal case that referred to the defendant’s “Monday sentencing.” I changed it to his “sentencing Monday.” Do you see why?
“Monday sentencing” could suggest that there is more than one sentencing, and we are reporting the one that will occur Monday. It’s a restrictive sense. “Sentencing Monday” is a non-restrictive sense that there is one sentencing and that it will occur Monday.
I know that no one is likely to misunderstand. I know that the thousands of times I have reworded such sentences may not have been the most efficient use of my time and energy. I know that this looks like the kind of obsession with inconsequential details that I deplore in other editors. But—great Fowler’s ghost!—this kind of willful awkwardness is the grit in the oyster.