For my subscribers, I’m sorry for that curtailed post. I was nearly finished with my discussion when a little tiny power failure merely dimmed my lights briefly but shut off my computer. There’s supposed to be an auto-save feature on this site, but evidently it was napping.
I will try again. I began by remarking that I have never before had such a hectic “summer vacation,” too busy most days to even indulge in this blog.
Then I turned to the Horror of the Day.
This student was writing an essay on fast food. Here’s her complete sentence—a perfectly reasonable sentence, really, for those who know ahead of time what her point is:
“Those who do not really know the repercussions of what they put into their bodies, like children, can eat their futures away.”
Unforewarned, I read along with my usual reasonableness…and took the “like children” to be a “such as” phrase to modify “what they put into their bodies,” a kind of adjective. Visions of enfant en casserole and Kinderschnitzel flashed into my mind. Yes, my student was explaining that people who eat children are eating the future away.
Well, that’s true. If enough people chow down on childmeat, that will be the end of the next generation, and hence the end of Homo sapiens. My student has indicated that Homo unaware of the effects of his meal choice isn’t all that sapiens, anyway.
I do love the idea of eating one’s future away. She had a good image there, and she could have made it work by just moving that little parenthetical modifier:
“Those who, like children, do not really know the repercussions of what they put into their bodies can eat their futures away.” The “like children” is actually more of an adverb describing the “how” of not-knowing. In other words, children (and adults just as oblivious as children) who stuff deep-fried foods and sugary treats into their mouths today are laying the groundwork for Type II diabetes tomorrow. My student’s source materials supported this point, and she wanted to show its importance with a nice metaphor. Brava to her.
But she has to remember that readers may not be thinking with her all the time. No reader should have to go through a complicated process in order to work through an essay:
- Read sentence.
- Say “huh??”
- Reread sentence.
- Say “oh.”
- Say “ah!”
- Reread paragraph up to and including sentence.
- Say “Oh, okay!”
- Read next sentence.
No one can get caught up in an idea by reading like the old school clocks: every minute click back one and then forward two.
I usually advocate proofreading by reading aloud to another person. But this was one bad sentence that wouldn’t have been saved that way, because the writer would have given the sentence the oral emphasis that it had in her own mind, and the listener wouldn’t have been confused. For this error to be caught, the sentence had to be read by a stranger who didn’t know its point in advance.
I guess I was the necessary stranger.