Flawed Style

Now that I’m paid to correct other people’s grammar, I feel slightly more justified in pointing out flaws in reputable publications (cough New York Times cough). I also tend to collect good examples of bad grammar, in case I ever end up teaching composition somewhere down the road.

This example comes from a Sunday Styles article, A Microwave Recipe for Fame:

After everyone had been fed, Mr. Borrok, who had just sold a Manhattan building, along with his father, at 14 Penn Plaza for about a $250 million profit, was led outside to meet a young woman, Laurie Fetter, 25, a Playboy model who liked the food and asked to meet the chef.

The misplaced modifier in the sentence leads the reader to believe that Mr. Borrok had sold his father along with the building. Now, most people do not sell their parents. But if Mr. Borrok’s father was indeed worth $250 million, perhaps the son made a smart financial decision in selling while the price was right. Or perhaps 14 Penn Plaza is a particularly prime location at which to sell one’s father at auction.

All jokes about father auctions aside, I suspect the sentence really ought to read:

After everyone had been fed, Mr. Borrok, who, along with his father, had just sold a Manhattan building, at 14 Penn Plaza for about a $250 million profit, was led outside to meet a young woman, Laurie Fetter, 25, a Playboy model who liked the food and asked to meet the chef.

By moving the phrase about the father before the action of just having sold the building, the father becomes another subject doing the selling, rather than an object of his son’s action of selling. It’s still not a beautiful sentence, but at least this way, it gets the job done.

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Flawed Style”

  1. Greg Says:

    I think you’ve got an extra comma in there:
    “had just sold a Manhattan building, at 14 Penn Plaza for about a $250 million profit”

    Miss you at COOGR!

  2. Ben Says:

    I agree with Greg– couldn’t you just kill the comma after “building”? And while we’re at it, is there any common-sense limit for the number of commas in a sentence– that is, after which point the sentence will almost certainly be a run-on disaster? I’ve spotted a few 6 or 7-comma sentences in a couple of New Yorker articles that should have been much shorter.

  3. Ben Says:

    And while we’re being picky, please excuse my ambiguity: the sentences should have been shorter, not the articles.

  4. Steve Says:

    That’s almost a paragraph in a sentence … except without a bit more context I’m not sure how I would break it up. What’s important in this sentence? The father? The food? The real estate? The playboy model? If the authors trying to make a joke someone needs to tell him that a proper one-liner is more by brevity than period placement.

  5. Grandpa Says:

    Way, way too many concepts for one sentence, and where to put the commas becomes a real puzzle. So let’s decide what we’re trying to say, and break it up into sentences that fit the context.
    I do notice these days that copy-editing is getting short shrift with newspapers. It’s detail stuff, and details cost money. Oh, for the days of E.B. White and James Thurber!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: