March 01, 2005

Horace diagnoses Ivan Watson's mistake?

This morning, Geoff Pullum noticed an "astonishing dangling modifier" on NPR:

Without Washington's support, however, Saddam Hussein quickly crushed the revolt.

Geoff was "quite surprised to catch such a great example of the sort of dangler you should avoid at all costs ... in scripted speech on National Public Radio". I agree, but I have a suspicion about how it happened.

Perhaps Watson (or whoever wrote the piece) originally had something like

Without Washington's support, however, the revolt was quickly crushed [by Saddam Hussein] ...

However, a later editorial eye saw an opportunity to replace a passive verb ("was quickly crushed") with its active counterpart, in order to become "more direct and vigorous". Result: the modifier was left dangling.

As Horace explained more than 2,000 years ago, "in vitium ducit culpae fuga, si caret arte". Avoidance of an error leads to a fault, if it lacks skill.


Posted by Mark Liberman at March 1, 2005 12:01 PM