“Many Hispanics are stereotyped to be ‘Latin lovers’ because…”

My student is looking at stereotypes fairly critically, as is made plain by her verb and also by her use of quotation marks. This awareness gives her a good start. And if she were only as attentive to the grammatical concept of number, she might make it through to the end of her observation. But that is not to be:

“Many Hispanics are stereotyped as ‘Latin lovers’ because they are able to dance and sweep a woman off their feet.”

Actually she seems to be buying into the stereotype somewhat herself, implying that Hispanics, or at least many Hispanics, can dance. I’d rather have seen “if” than “because,” maybe—or “and so people expect them to be able to dance….” Perhaps she had that latter idea in mind. But be that as it may.

The “they” could refer to the “Many Hispanics,” “Hispanics,” or “Latin lovers.” Any of them could dance, presumably, although the sweeping would seem to belong to the lovers more than to a general population. But whomever she’s referring to, those guys (we presume) must be nimble indeed, able to keep dancing even though some woman seems to be lying on their feet. Never mind: in the midst of the dance a sweep (of the hand? of a broom?) and the woman is off their feet. Let the samba go on!

I know she meant “sweep off their feet” as it is traditionally meant, what Webster’s dully and generally defines as “gain immediate and unquestioning support, approval, or acceptance by a person” and those of us still living define as “transport in instant adoration.” At least every time I’ve been swept off my feet that’s what happened.

If there had been more than one woman on the dance floor along with those Hispanics—or lovers—then the sweeping would be clear: each man takes a woman in his arms and sweeps her off her feet, perhaps both figuratively and literally, depending on the nature of the dance. But since “woman” is singular and the pronoun my student chose is plural, the reader will, at least at first, assume the feet belong to the plural noun, the Hispanics (or lovers). Hence: a woman lying (or sitting or standing, makes no difference to me) on the feet of the dancers, having to be swept off. Perhaps once swept off one pair of feet, she moves on to the next pair….  We must just hope, for her sake, that the dance isn’t a flamenco, which would put her at risk of being stomped to death if she doesn’t get out of the way quickly.

She too would have to be nimble!

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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