“The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is…”

So the verb here is “to be wondered.” Do we have yet another inanimate agent? Not sure, because the question is wondered; that is, it is wondered by something, and that thing is the agent. The agent is certainly unclear, though: the wondering takes place in everyone’s mind, so the mind itself can’t be doing the wondering. Could the question be presenting itself to be wondered…by whatever else happens to be in the mind?

I suppose if my student had included a preposition—”the question that is always wondered about“—the phrase wouldn’t seem quite so bizarre, although the matter of agent would still be up for grabs, or for gropes in the dim recesses of the mind. Wondered about by whom or what?

Perhaps one of my readers more thoroughly informed in grammatical terminology can name this error. I throw up my hands, then put them down again and grab a pen so I can write “awkward and unclear” in the margin and move on.

And so, on to the question itself:

“The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is ‘Whose fault is obesity?'”

I had assigned five essays on the “American obesity epidemic” for the week’s reading. Apparently my student generalized from those examples and assumed that everyone was thinking about the issue, all the time. Now, as a perennially-dieting person from the age of eleven on, I probably think about obesity more than a lot of other people do—and I don’t think about it all that much, at least compared to the other things I think about. I especially don’t spend a lot of time wondering whose fault it is. Two or three of the assigned readings did place blame: one accused the weak-willed or perverse individual; one accused pleasure-pushing fast-food joints; a third accused a hurried and thoughtless society that offered few convenient alternatives to junk food. It’s tempting here to echo a wonderful song by Jo Carol Pierce (Bad Girls Upset with the Truth) and add “I blame GOD!” But none of the readings did that…

So my student wasn’t really far off the mark, and an effort at more precise diction would have produced a more effective opening to a (probably accurate-enough) essay of his own. The quarrel I have with him is that he spawned that horribly awkward and unclear noun clause and then went blithely on with his verb of being and ill-defined predicate-nominative question. And that’s the sentence he used to launch an essay that staggered its way through a similarly awkward and ill-defined discussion.

I really, really believe that taking more time on that first sentence would have given him some control as he went forward.

Did he read what he had written? In the small draft-reading circles, did any of his partners object to, or ask about, this sentence? Or, horrible to contemplate, was this phrasing the result of polishing something even rougher as he finalized his paper to turn in?

All these speculations are too depressing as the second week of the semester chugs along and my brand-new first-years toil over Essay Number One, Draft One.

Many years ago, a professor on whom I had a blinding, suffocating crush came into class the day after, we later learned, his wife had left him and commented à propos of nothing that “Hope was the last thing released from Pandora’s Box…the last evil, and the worst.” I tell myself this characterization was as wrong as it was unorthodox, as I gaze hopefully at my students.

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

7 responses to ““The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is…”

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    I’m guessing he read it and sees nothing wrong with it – it’s just like he talks. Never actually looked at what the sentence says.
    Or he’s found a way to micro-size humans and have them walk around inside people’s bodies like those sci-fi movies…or he wrote this while sitting in a health museum with one of those walk around brain exhibits…or….it’s just what he’s heard all his life so it must be right….and no one in high school told him otherwise.
    Hope the week offers up some laughs along with the hand wringing

  • RAB

    Thanks, phil, I hope so too!

  • Susan P

    I worked as a proofreader during one period of my life. There were three of us, and we passed the galleys around at least three times each. None of the books were perfectly proofed. That job left a permanent mark on me, though. I proofread everything unconsciously. It helps to proof read, but it comes with no guarantees.

  • RAB

    Ah, whom did you work for? I did copy-editor gigs with St Martin’s and Prentice-Hall. It certainly does leave its mark(s). Of course to do a good job you have to start off with some knowledge! Aye, there’s the rub….

  • solberg73

    This construction is the banal daughter of ‘Mistakes were made.’ in the parlance of military spokes-people evading finger-pointing. Or…
    One of my other ‘native tongues’ is Penna Dutch, an amalgam of German and English spoken by mostly Swiss immigrantsI So I routinely say ‘It wonders me..’ (Ger: Es wundert mich) I suppose the question itself is the agent, as you discussed. Hebrew also have several calisthenics-rich constructions when broaching, or being broached by,,a query.
    And as to weightier issues, my previous blog site, Xanga, was famous for lamely and unknowingly ‘Featuring’ all sorts of poor-English titles. One you’ve recalled me (ha) was headed ‘Obeasity: who’s fault??’
    I think I commented that Mr. Fault had done nothing to have his name de-capitalized , and that ‘Obesity was an issue, but not a beastly one.
    Never a dull day.
    I should probably go to sleep now before I binge till dawn on your exquisite oeuvre..

    • RAB

      Yes! Es wundert mich! My sketchy German comes back to me…. Perhaps it is the deeply-embedded culprit in many an English phrasing, for better or worse. I like to cite German for validating the split infinitive in English–if the preposition or modifier, for instance, attaches itself to the verb in German, then surely we can treat it as an unofficial part of the verb in English and say “to boldly go,” for example, without apology.
      Can your blog Xanga still be visited? Mr. Fault must surely have some interesting friends.
      I like your voice very much.

  • solberg73

    What a nice compliment, to feel part of your attentive and serious gaze.
    The good news(?) is that yes, all 970 of my previous short pieces are safely living as we speak in the Archives, clickable on my Main page.
    As I read more of your posts here, I’m sure i’ll be goose-bumped into providing here links to relevant ‘Me too!’ posts of the same ilk.
    Thanks again for taking the time to respond: my current post is a somewhat facetious je-accuse about ‘ignored comments’, twisting in the wind, and I’m thrilled to see mine here alive a well/JS Tel Aviv

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