April 09, 2004

The grim economic life of Scar City

Arnold Zwicky has noted in a posting to the American Dialect Society's list that Gabriel Schoenfeld's review of Bobby Fischer Goes to War (by David Edmonds and John Eidenow, NYT Book Review 3/28/04, p. 15 of the print edition), contains this passage (line breaks are as as printed):

    Instead of subservience to the authorities,
Spassky relied upon his prowess over the chess-
board  to obtain what he wanted  amid the scar-
city of planned economic life...

The scar city? Sounds like a rough place.

As Arnold notes, it is extraordinarily hard not to read the passage this way the first time around, especially given the break in the middle of "chessboard" right above it, which does separate semantically relevant parts of the word, and does sort of set you up for being fooled. His broader point about it is about the usage people who spend so much time dishing out uninformed nonsense about -- like that for "clarity" you should avoid using which to introduce an integrated relative clause (anything which they found) or since with non-temporal interpretations (since 37 is prime). Their time would be well spent on real distractors and discourtesies, like this one, things that really do get in the way of understanding.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at April 9, 2004 04:44 PM