Babies who smoke: Woolly Words #2

I enjoy receiving my Word of the Day from Dictionary.com, but I was a little disappointed when I saw this entry:

Definitions for ‘putsch’

1. a plotted revolt or attempt to overthrow a government, especially one that depends on suddenness and speed.

Now I’m guessing that a government ‘that depends on suddenness and speed’ (and I’d like to know which government that might be!) is less likely to be overthrown.

But that’s not the issue. Because that’s not what was meant at all. Did you spot the woolly usage in the definition? The clause ‘that depends on suddenness and speed’ should refer to the ‘plotted revolt’, not to ‘a government’.

woolly_words2

So what exactly is wrong with the sentence? Just that the modifier is in the wrong place. A modifier adds meaning to (or modifies) another word, and it should be placed as close as possible to that word. The definition should read:
‘an attempt to overthrow a government; a plotted revolt, especially one that depends on suddenness and speed’.

Misplaced modifiers can be hilarious

Here are some examples:

There should be penalties for women having babies who smoke.

– There certainly should be. Babies smoking! Whatever next?

She rode past on a grey horse wearing a pink lacy hat.

– And I’m sure the horse looked very fetching in it.

At the age of nine, my mother told me about the birds and the bees.

– Already a mother at the age of nine …?

It’s not really difficult to rearrange or rewrite sentences so that they really do say what you want them to say.

There should be penalties for women who smoke when having babies (or, better still … who smoke while they are pregnant.)

Wearing a pink lacy hat, she rode past on a grey horse. 

When I was about nine years old, my mother told me about the birds and the bees.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.