First of all, I have to tell you that I loved Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, all 700-plus pages of it, so much that I know I will read it again. It was that enthralling: an exciting, educational, sad, funny, well-written, captivating book. Second of all, I have to tell you (in case you somehow missed this) that I am a grammar nerd of the first order. So when I came across a second misplaced modifier in this wonderful book, well, how could I let it pass without comment? I always wonder where the editors are who miss these bloopers.
Here is the cast of characters in this example: Popper is a tiny dog belonging to the protagonist, Theo. Boris is Theo’s closest friend, someone he met in middle school. The narrator is Theo:
“Popper—damp, but otherwise looking none the worse for his adventure—stiffened his legs rather formally as Boris set him down on the floor and then paddled over to me, holding his head up so that I might scratch him under the chin.”
Obviously, Popper was the one hoping for a chin scratch, but the way the sentence is constructed, Boris did two things: he put the dog on the floor and then paddled over to Theo to get his chin scratched. How to fix this? The sentence is fine up to the setting-on-the-floor part. It could be rewritten this way: “…stiffened his legs rather formally as he was set down on the floor and then paddled over to me….” You can probably think of other ways to avoid this misplaced modifier.
The rule about modifiers is that you have to ask yourself who did the action and then put that person’s (or in this case, dog’s) name or pronoun immediately following the modifier. I do love them, though. The results are often inadvertently very entertaining.
These are two bad feelings to experience.
Many people think CHAGRIN means a feeling of sadness, but it actually means embarrassment or humiliation as a result of failure:
Larry was chagrined when he failed to get a minimum passing score on the chemistry final.
If you are NONPLUSSED (this can also be spelled with one S, although two are preferred), you feel confused and don’t know how to act:
Nonplussed, Larry thought he would be the valedictorian, but stunned by his failing chemistry grade he gradually acknowledged that honor was not to be his.
You may be aware that a different meaning for “nonplussed” is starting to overtake the original meaning as a result of common usage: people are using the word to indicate a lack of concern or caring, which is the opposite of the word’s original meaning:
Larry was nonplussed after he failed the chemistry exam because he hadn’t cared whether he made valedictorian.
This other usage is still cited in dictionaries by a note indicating that it is not yet standard; but my bet is that within 10 years it will have overtaken the historical definition. All languages change.
Here’s a question a reader posed. It is worth some thought:
A person is moving from one apartment to another. Would you say she is moving into the new apartment or moving in to it?
I vote for the first option. She is moving all her belongings inside the new digs; therefore, she is moving into it.
If you say she is moving in to that apartment, you are thinking of the verb as “moving in.” But that “in” is extraneous. She’s moving. You could save space and trees (OK, a tiny tree) by simply stating she is moving to her new apartment.
Feel free to disagree.
She dived or she dove?
I recently wrote about “snuck” as a variant for “sneaked.” It’s no longer considered substandard, so you don’t have to sneak around if you’ve snuck it into your writing.
A few more verbs I’ve thought about since I wrote that post: “weave,” “dive” and “get.”
Which form do you prefer for the past tense of “weave”: “weaved” or “wove”? How about the past tense of “dive”? “Dived” or “dove”? Any of those words are acceptable.
The past participle of “get” gives you a choice as well. (The past participle may be a scary-sounding phrase, but all it means is the verb form that includes “has,” “have” or “had.”) Now I will get back to “get”:
Do you say, “I have got my flu shot” or “I have gotten my flu shot”? For some unknown reason, I am a “gotten” person, but either is correct. Both come from Middle English. The only time you will definitely need “got” instead of “gotten” is to show ownership:
“I have got three dollars in my wallet.” You wouldn’t use “gotten” in that sentence.
The other day I wrote a post about a newspaper ad that bugged me. No matter how I tried to insert the ad, I couldn’t get it to post. I’ve now cropped it and hope it will work; it will make the post comprehensible. Here goes:
Yes! Here’s the rest of what I wrote, as a reminder:
From the initial idea to the finished ad in the newspaper, did not one person see the error and correct it? This happens so frequently, I have to wonder if editors exist any longer.
This ad is aimed at “graDuation” celebrations, but “congratulations” is not related. These two words are derived from entirely different Latin verbs. True, many people do pronounce “congratulations” as if the T were a D. But it’s not. Was the word never underlined, indicating a problem with it? Did not one person notice the error?
I may have to drown my sorrow and frustration in a two-pound lobster.