“Instead of limiting choices…”

Just one more in the inanimate-object-as-agent series.

This sentence came from an essay on fast-food consumption and obesity. My student was arguing that fast-food restaurants shouldn’t have to offer “healthy” choices and cut back on the burgers; individuals should exercise control over their eating choices.

But in her sentence, people aren’t really doing much; it’s an intangible force that has to make an effort:

“Instead of limiting choices, a sense of responsibility should try to be instilled into people’s minds for their own health.”

That sense of responsibility has to try to be instilled in these people, or rather in their minds. So far, it evidently isn’t succeeding, but that doesn’t mean it should give up, I’m sure. Maybe the minds are closed, and being instilled is therefore difficult—my student doesn’t explain. She does note, however, that something is “for their own health.” The position of this modifying prepositional phrase makes its application ambiguous: Does she mean that for their own health, a sense of responsibility has to be instilled? Or does she mean that a sense of responsibility for their own health has to be instilled? Or is it the act of being instilled that is for their own health? I would imagine that if the sense of responsibility isn’t sure what the modifier modifies, instillation (I just looked that up, and it IS a word!) cannot be accomplished, regardless of effort.

She doesn’t say how the sense of responsibility is to accomplish its mission, either. It has to do the trying, but something else must do the actual instilling (“try to be instilled”…by what or whom?). Can it instill itself?

If people made the effort, they might develop a sense of responsibility. But for my student, they’re just lying there, waiting for that s. of r. to get some gumption and try to get instilled in their minds!

Hmm. Fast food plus lying around…probably not a good combination for anybody’s own health.

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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

11 responses to ““Instead of limiting choices…”

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