Tag Archives: american obesity epidemic

“The health issues that come with eating fast food…”

Part two in the “sentences that need not have been written” series.

“The health issues that come with eating fast food can cause one to become obese and have health issues.”

Now, maybe this sentence isn’t circular at all. Perhaps the first “health issues” are, what, stimulated appetite? Addiction to sugar or fat? Cavities? We know obesity isn’t one of the  health issues mentioned here, because obesity can be caused by these health issues. What else can be caused by them? Ah. Health issues. These must be other health issues: diabetes, perhaps; high blood pressure; heart attacks? Or maybe just addiction to sugar or fat, because really, if the first one isn’t defined then we can’t rule out any possible definitions for the second.

I can’t overthink this. It may just be one of those sentence-interruptus products: halfway through the sentence, his roommate says “Hey, let’s go over and get some lunch” or the hot girlfriend texts “PARTY TIME!” and the writer stops, mid-sentence, to do this other, more attractive, thing. Upon returning to task, he doesn’t waste time reading what he’s already written, but just plows ahead. That might explain it.

Or he knows what he means by “health issues” but doesn’t want to share. He might feel “health issue” is a more grown-up term than “diabetes.”

There is always the possibility, of course, that he doesn’t know what he means by “health issues” but is sure someone must. Either he has no imagination or he’s reluctant to pin himself down.

Maybe he’s afraid if he mentions one he’ll forget a more obvious one and the reader will laugh at him….

Use your words, dear. And I don’t mean “issues,” which you’ve heard a lot lately and feel safe with; I mean the ones in the OED, or at least in Webster’s—the clear, concrete terms people used before the mass media, fear of commitment, and lazy thinking replaced them all with “issues.”


“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.