Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sacred Syntax

Admittedly there is a lot wrong in the world. The Republicans are doing everything they can to shut down the federal government while blaming the Democrats for their intractability (“Budget Stances Harden as Deadline Nears for Shutdown,” NYT, 4/5/11). Qaddafi is hard to eradicate and the ragtag Libyan rebels lack cohesion or identity. Efforts to cool the defective Fukushima Daiichi reactor threaten to sow the seeds of further problems (“U.S. Sees Array of New Threats at Japan’s Nuclear Plant,” NYT, 4/5/11). Yemen is a mess, the Sudan is worse and Somalia is a breeding ground for pirates. But in a front-page story in Wednesday’s Times (“Ivory Coast Leader Swayed by Force as He Considers Exit,” NYT, 4/6/11), writers Adam Nossiter and Scott Sayare produced a first paragraph that reads thus: “Holed up in a bunkers under his residence, Ivory Coast’s strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, negotiated the terms of his potential surrender on Tuesday, as opposition forces closed in, his generals called on their forces to lay down their arms and French and United Nations negotiators demanded that he officially renounce control of his country.” Here we have a case of journalistic double indemnity: an overly long sentence that also happens to be a run-on. It’s actually refreshing to find such a blunder in the paper of record (a blunder that could easily have been corrected by the paper’s copy editors had they simply killed the comma after “Tuesday,” replacing it with a period and capitalizing “as.” Are we to assume that editors at the Times have been so overwhelmed by the deteriorating condition of our planet, an old battered warship now wobbling perilously through the solar system, that they have forgotten the basics of grammar? In a more activist society, there might have been protests against the Times similar to those in Kandahar against the burning of the Koran by a preacher in Florida, but the error produced no such outrage amongst grammatical fundamentalists.

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