Saturday, September 25, 2010

What a difference a dash makes

I meant to nitpick a little yesterday, in observance of National Punctuation Day, and didn't get around to it. But since I have a perfect example, from yesterday's Globe, of the power of punctuation, I'm going to say "better late than never," and nitpick anyway. 

The nit showed up in the AP report of Eddie Fisher's death:
His fame was enhanced by his 1955 marriage to movie darling Debbie Reynolds. They were touted as “America’s favorite couple’’ -- and the birth of two children.
I tried to guess what was left out of that second sentence, but I wasn't even close. In fact, it was a tiny edit -- one sentence repunctuated as two --- that caused all the mischief. In other publications, the line reads this way:
His fame was enhanced by his 1955 marriage to movie darling Debbie Reynolds -- they were touted as "America's favorite couple" -- and the birth of two children.
So what happened? It's possible that an editor, somewhere along the line, looked skeptically at that sentence -- did the arrival of two children really enhance Fisher's fame? -- and started to improve the wording. Or maybe a reflexive dash-hater attacked, not noticing that the edit left those two children grammatically unmoored. Either way, this is probably an example of the "editor, interrupted" syndrome, which often leaves crumbs on the pages of newspapers.

I also had a problem (though not a punctuation problem) with the next sentence in the obit, but I'll leave you to find it (or ignore it, as all the editors seem to have done). Me, I would add one little letter and make it all OK. You? 
Their daughter Carrie Fisher became a film star herself in the first three "Star Wars" films as Princess Leia, and later as a best-selling author of "Postcards From the Edge" and other books.

55 comments:

~~Heidi~~ said...

The letter you are talking about it a w, no?

Anonymous said...

I love nit-picking as much as the next person, but I can not figure out what is wrong with that last sentence... ?

Designing In Surprise said...

Here's the nit I see in your challenge passage: the second half is a non sequitur. What does writing books have to do with becoming a film star? Sheesh.

Bungle Jerry said...

A 'w' perhaps, before 'as'? At the moment she became a film star as an author, which is a bit odd.

Designing In Surprise said...

Sorry, hit "Publish" too soon. This could be fixed by the addition of a "w:"

"...and later WAS a best-selling author..."

Karen said...

I can't figure out what letter needs to be added to that last sentence (and I'm very curious now!), but I would put commas before and after "Carrie Fisher" because she was their only daughter together.

Drackar said...

It's a bit of a run on, that last bit..

nuclearheadache said...

"Their daughter Carrie Fisher became a film star herself in the first three 'Star Wars' films as Princess Leia, and later as a best-selling author of 'Postcards From the Edge' and other books."

I can't figure out how to fix this with one letter, but it is a fairly awful sentence. It makes it sound as though she also later became a film star by writing "Postcards from the Edge", which really makes no sense. I would rewrite the sentence:

"Their daughter Carrie Fisher became a film star herself in the first three 'Star Wars' films as Princess Leia, and later she became a best-selling author with the publication of 'Postcards From the Edge' and other books."

Beatloaf said...

What is wrong with the excerpt about Carrie Fischer? I can't figure it out!

GoKoala said...

_was best selling?
nice puzzle

JeffScape said...

I'd change "later as" to "later became," since it reads like Carrie Fisher starred as a best-selling author, rather than being a best-selling author.

I love this blog.

Michael Sebastian said...

She "later was a bestselling author...."

Dashes are formed with three hyphens on a computer keyboard, no?

2nd Cup of Coffee said...

No "a" needed before "best-selling author."

~V~ said...

Luckily, your blog was featured as a top blog or I would have never found it. I feel as though I've found a long lost friend.

I'm that person that tries to not go completely insane when someone uses "then" when it should be "than" or uses "your" when it should be "you're."

My son's teacher sent me an email saying "just let me know what your thinking" and I knew the future of education was in trouble. But then again, even I make mistakes now and than. *couldn't resist*

I look forward to the read.

Charles Matthews said...

Ewww. If ever a sentence needed more than a one-letter fix... But if I'm limited to only one letter, I'd change "later as a best-selling" to "later was a best-selling etc." But even better would be to start the whole damn thing over again.

Bruce Docker said...

w

David said...

If only one change can be made, I would just remove the "as" before "a best-selling author," carrying over the "became." I am assuming the letter you would add is a "w" to "as." She is still writing and remains an author; whether everything she writes is "best-selling" that I don't know. And of course even when she is long gone she will always be "...is the author of...." You could write that she "...is [now] an author, having written the best-selling 'Postcards from the Edge' and other books." And of course your fix might not involve a "w" and is far more elegant and I am a total idiot who can't properly suss out the problem.

The first part of the sentence is also a little wonky: "...became a film star herself in the first three 'Star Wars'...;" she became a film star as a result of her role in Star Wars, not "in" the films themselves. It should be worded "...became a star herself, notably featured in the first three 'Star Wars'....

Marlowe said...

How this is a Blogger 'Blog of Note' mystifies me.

Burke Droppings said...

That's what I WAS thinking...

Jan said...

Yes to Heidi, Designing in Surprise, Bungle Jerry, and everyone else who suggested adding a "w" to make "as" into "was." Carrie Fisher did not become "a film star ... AS a best-selling author," which is what the sentence says. She was a film star, then she was a best-selling author. Thanks, everyone, for the great response. Blogger keeps signing me out and denying my password, or I would have been here sooner!

Katie said...

Personally, I'd remove the comma, "Leia and later" since "later as a best-selling author of 'Postcards From the Edge' and other books" is a dependent clause.

<>< Katie

David said...

Carrie didn't die, her father did, and even if she did die, she still is the author of all her novels. Just as Mark Twain is the author of "Tom Sawyer," Carrie Fisher is the author of "Postcards From the Edge." If she "was" the author, who is the author now?

Sarah said...

It is never too late to nitpick.

Peanuts said...

interesting postXD

nuclearheadache said...

Ah, I see. Change "as" to "was". That would be simpler that what I suggested. However, as someone pointed out below, that would leave her literary output strictly in the past tense and would make it sound as though she were the one who passed away.

Love you blog, by the way. I always find myself nit-picking the grammar in our local newspaper's articles. My favorites are usually misplaced clauses that unintentionally change the intended meaning of a sentence. Consider the following from the Colin Raye song "Love,Me":

"I heard those words just hours before my Grandma passed away in the doorway of the church where me and Grandpa stopped to pray."

Karlota said...

i'm a member of our wrong grammar's club so don't really care much for the details.. still, nice to know about the dashes..

Kat~ : ) said...

Some very interesting comments here. I agreed, initially, with the addition of the 'w' to the word 'as' in the sentence referring to Carrie becoming an author. Now, after reading David's last entry, he is right, Carrie is not dead and therefore 'was' not the author of the books but 'is.' I agree with 'nuclearheadache'that Carrie 'became' the filmstar and author. Incidentally, and totally unrelated, but I look like Carrie!

zulkbo said...

ermmm..
nice story
for me...

TheBrewsky said...

So she became a film star as a result of her role in Star Wars, as well as her bestselling book "Postcards From the Edge"?

No, I don't see anything wrong with that. Besides maybe the fanboys, anyway...

Jim said...

Obviously I'm a bit late with my comment...but since I'm here:-) I'll go ahead and say "as a best selling author" shoule read "was a...etc.

Hi, Jan, just saw your blog listed as a "blog of note" Enjoyed perusing...and look forward to reading more of your nits.

Revglenrose said...

Makes me think of the classic "textbook case" from my Canadian schoolbooks -- "Sitting on the verandah, seven cows were seen." Not an exact parallel (dash) but (comma) it does give me a chuckle.

EdLauriePTL said...

This blog is a treasure trove; we love it.

Reena said...

I'm glad to find your blog because I am grammatically-challenged. I can learn from your blog :).

Kay L. Davies said...

Of course it was "was" -- and I can see why this is a "Blog of Note"! The title alone makes it noteworthy.
I'll enjoy following the ins and outs of Grammar as she gets torn apart under the boxcar of 21st century English usage.

Kay
Alberta, Canada

G said...

Original:
But since I have a perfect example, from yesterday's Globe, of the power of punctuation, I'm going to say "better late than never," and nitpick anyway.

> My version:
But since I have a perfect example of the power of punctuation from yesterday's Globe, I'm going to say "better late than never," and nitpick anyway.

Too many commas :\

iNdi@na said...

for my part I'm always reluctant to include a comma directly preceding the word 'and'

Peter Yeuth said...

I love this. I see stuff like that all the time, and it drives my friends crazy when I correct them.

Mate said...

great blog
Style and Substance a rare combination online.

Joe jonas said...

nice puzzle

True Blood season 3 DVD said...

I can't figure out how to fix this with one letter, but it is a fairly awful sentence. It makes it sound as though she also later became a film star by writing "Postcards from the Edge", which really makes no sense.

Reem Adeeb said...

I nit-pick all the time..but my sister nit picks more than I and especially about my punctuation!
You will probably have a field day with my blog!!I try hard tho'!
www.frockanrolla.blogspot.com

Thistle said...

It really annoys me when these things are published with mistakes like this and worse. What is the point of paying someone to edit if they're not going to do it properly? What happened to the old idea of reading things out aloud to spot mistakes? At least that would have taken care of the poor sentance structure.

Big Girl Jewelry said...

I believe the sentence is grammatically correct, but confusing. The addition of that w would go a long way in unraveling the confusion, but the entire sentence should be rewritten.

Becky said...

It's a horrible sentence. 'She became a film star as Princess Leia' is already problematic. Did Princess Leia become the film star? Even if that makes sense why would she have to 'become' a film star again and how could she possible achieve that as a best selling author.

I have no idea how you could transform it into a sensible sentence with the addition of one letter.

RSA Certificate said...

Yup, definitely needs to be a "WAS" not an "AS"

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

By restructuring some sentences, your over-use of commas could be eliminated. Otherwise, a very interesting blog.

The Literary Lioness said...

What is currently driving me crazy on many blogs and message boards is the how many people write "loosing" for "losing". I see "loosing" everywhere, even by very good writers. It can't always be a typo.

http://www.theliterarylioness.com

ImNRtist said...

Personally, I think the 'as' should be removed altogether.

Anonymous said...

My personal preference would be, as well as seeing the w added, to have commas around Carrie Fisher (the name, not the person). Also I would remove the quotation marks from the titles, Star Wars and not "Star Wars". Surely the capital letters should suffice in telling us it is the name of something? It certainly isn't a quote.

How happy I am to come across a blog on grammar. It's good to see so many people are still interested in it. I shall read, laugh and hopefully learn...

TheWizard said...

Nitpicking... rather than add a "w" to make the word "was", I'd recommend removing the "as" entirely, "and later a ..."

Mary Witzl said...

I'm coming to this late, but I caught that non sequitur too -- 'was', not 'as' there, right? Being a movie star has zip-all to do with being a best-selling author. (Thank God.)

mike said...

great blog! glad to find it. wouldn't even know about it if it wasn't a "blog of note."

Eleanor said...

The letter is "w," but I too have a problem with it suggesting that Carrie Fisher WAS the author of some books. The bigger point is that this is terrific fun! Good catch on Jan's part — I had to read the sentence more than once to catch the error, and I DO THIS FOR A LIVING. There is always something to learn — every sentence might present a new challenge.

By the way, please don't use three hyphens to make an em dash. Or even two hypens (unless you're typing on a typewriter, of course). If you're on a Mac, an em dash comes from typing option+shift hyphen; and en dash is obtained by simply typing option hyphen. If you're on a PC, well, I'm not really sure. I'd suggest buying a Mac!

NucciWrier said...

It wouldn't be just a letter I would add but a word.
Their daughter Carrie Fisher became a film star herself ()in the first three "Star Wars" films as Princess Leia, and later as a best-selling author of "Postcards From the Edge" and other books.
It seems there is a word missing here. Shouldn't it read that she became a film star herself, (appearing) in the first three....? Maybe I just looked too much into it but I think adding that word makes it clearer.