Monday, November 25, 2013


I recently wrote a book review where I included the following statement:

Long-winded and rambling sentences with far too many ambiguous pronouns, problematic syntax, poor grammar, missing punctuation (like dozens of needed commas), and dangling phrases, too often made it difficult for me to understand what [the author] was trying to say.

Some folks may read this and label me as a pedantic, judgmental man who gets his jollies by putting others down so that he can feel superior. Look at me, the sheriff of the grammar police! But I assure you that often these so-called trifles are critically important in interpreting the arguments and intentions of the author. I assure you that I can often be led down an unintended fork with an author who is sloppy as to the rules of writing. Consider some examples:

1. Man surprised nobody answered his help-wanted ad:
What he wrote: You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.
What he intended: You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.

2. Frustrated victim as killer approaches:
What she said: Don't stop!
What she intended: Don't. Stop!

3. Hungry Cannibals:
What they said: Let's eat, grandpa!
What they intended: Let's eat grandpa!

4. Lonely lady on dating website:
What she wrote: I find my inspiration in cooking my family and my dog.
What she intended: I find my inspiration in cooking, my family, and my dog.

5. Bloodthristy panda at the gun range:
What actually happened: Eats shoots and leaves
What he meant: Eats, shoots, and leaves

Have I made my point clear? What you actually write can say something quite different from what you had intended. Is it any wonder folks are often misinterpreted?