Tuesday 02 December 1997
Norman Foster tells us that Australians dangle participles from their hats to ward off biting comments. Mollie Caird is "astonished that anyone working for a liberal-minded paper such as The Independent should want to bring back hanging participles. She fears that we shall soon be denying benefits to illegitimate infinitives. Duncan Bull, however, thinks that we can avoid all the problems by bringing back Latin as the pan-European language. Phil Rivers asks: "If a dangling participle loses its grip and falls, does it become a past participle, or is it just your grammar slipping?" He thinks they might best be fed into a participle accelerator which could split the infinitive to useful purpose. Martin Brown proposes to dangle his participles in a vat of formaldehyde as a protest against his not winning any major art prize recently.
Kay Newman points out that dangling participles are also known as unattached participles. She wants to start a dating agency for them, or at least singles bars "for them to hang out in while awaiting the nouns of their dreams". Phil Worth suggests hanging them up in Tube trains "so that they could be both gripped and read at the same time". Maria O Treadwell, however, points out that "dangling participles" is an anagram of "GIs land in piglet crap".
Bruce Birchall sees them as bait to (boldly) catch a split infinitive, or as bunting at a book fair, or to be dipped in taramasalata and hummus at literary lunches, or tassels on a stage costume for Mrs Malaprop, or as text for Electricity and Gas companies' letters when threatening to disconnect people, or catkins or earrings or chandeliers.
Richard Abram thinks that "hanging/dangling participles should be drawn and quartered (as should those who perpetrate them)". Nigel Plevin thinks that hanging's too good for them, but warns that protracted use of dangling participles can lead to a hiatus hernia in the conversation. Peter Thomas sees them dangling from a mobile on the ceiling of an English teacher's child.
Len Clarke says: "I had a dangling participle once, and was tempted to ask Sian Cole to fix it with her Kama Sutures." Unfortunately she declined and he's still wondering whether he escaped a long sentence. Chambers Dictionary prizes will soon be dangled towards Dale Bettison, Kay Newman and Bruce Birchall.
Finally, Tony Blair says: "Since coming into office, pounds 100m has been switched into patient care." We only mention that for the benefit of those readers who asked for an example of a dangling participle. Since pounds 100m was not what came into office, the participle "coming" is hanging, dangling, or unattached.
Next week, croquet mallets. Meanwhile, I keep reading on the weather page that there's a mass of warm water called El Nino in the Pacific Ocean that is one-and-a-half times the size of the United States. Surely there's something we could be doing with all that warm water. Any ideas will be welcome at: Creativity, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Chambers Dictionary prizes for those we like best.
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