Errors and Omissions: Curse of the hanging participle strikes residents

Our Letters editor and chief pedant casts his eye over this week's Independent

 

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This is from an article in last Saturday’s magazine, about co-housing projects: “Touring their new development on a crisp spring day, it is easy to see its appeal. Clad in brick and timber, and architecturally sleek, residents first encounter the site via a long drive.” The hanging participle “clad” sets up an amazing image of residents clad in brick and timber. It is the development that is clad in brick and timber – but that means the words “clad” and “development” need to be in the same sentence.

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Another example of words drifting apart, with unfortunate results, comes from a television review published on Wednesday: “But the suitability of Wainwright’s material for the mores of US cable TV drama were last night underlined by her new BBC1 series, Happy Valley.”

“Suitability” and “were” are just slightly too far apart for the writer to notice that they fail to agree as to number – “were” should be “was”. Unfortunately, the plural noun “mores” is slightly nearer to the verb, which seems to have caused the confusion.

Oddly, though, the singular noun “drama”, right next to “were” seems to have been ignored. The right link to make was “suitability was”; the alternative “drama was” would have produced the right result, even though for the wrong reason; but the writer’s brain somehow fixed on “mores were”.

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Number again. A news story on Thursday informed us that “Resistance to treatments for life-threatening hospital infections caused by the common bacteria Klebsiella pneumonia has already spread to all parts of the world.” The word “bacteria” is a plural – whereas K.pneumoniae is one bacterium.

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“Even the great Robert Fisk, like Homer, nods,” writes Mark Miller, from Cumbria. He was referring to this, from Fisk’s report last Saturday: “Just as the entire world predicted, the whole fandango of an Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace’ has collapsed again.”

Mr Miller points out that a fandango is a Spanish dance, with an insistent, driving rhythm – not much like the faltering, chaotic Middle East peace process. I suggested that possibly Fisk had meant “farrago” – a messy mixture of stuff. Mr Miller came up with “fandangle”, a 19th-century slang word meaning fantastic ornamentation or general tomfoolery. Sounds right to me.

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Our obituary of Bob Hoskins, published on Thursday, told how the actor, early in his career, would perform amid “the hurly-burly in rough pubs and clubs, playing to disinterested, rowdy punters who were both demanding and frequently uninterested”.

This means, oddly, that the punters were both disinterested (having nothing to gain or lose from the proceedings) and uninterested (not mentally engaged with what was going on). An uninterested audience is obviously bad news for a performer, but why bother to say that they were disinterested? That is something the reader will assume. The distinction between “disinterested” and “uninterested” is one of the staples of pedantry, but it is worth maintaining, because they are both useful words.

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