Sheldon Ocker’s The Write Stuff

Sheldon:

You have made such good progress that your latest slip up saddens me. I understand your backup, given the sorry state of the Beacon Journal, is weak, ineffective and, often, inadequate. However, that means you must edit your own copy much more closely than when the newspaper was strong.

The rules governing grammar and usage are not obstructions, obstacles strewn in the path of a writer. Quite the opposite is the reality. They are meant to make it easy to transmit information from writer to reader. Sheldon, I think of those rules as the guardrails that allow you to deliver your message safely to the reader without confusion.

You are, as I stated, getting better, but you still stumble over antecedents. Read this sentence carefully: “After four games in May against the Cincinnati Reds, the Washington Nationals will visit Progressive Field June 14-16 for three games, marking the beginning of a 6½-week stretch with no games against NL competition.”

You can’t grasp what that sentence says? It is the Washington Nationals who will play four games against Cincinnati, and the sentence, further, says the Washington Nationals begin that 6½-week stretch with no games against NL competition.

I know the language can be confusing, especially on deadline. (Although this does not seem to be a deadline piece.) You are a competent writer and often a very good one. To put it in baseball terms, you need to keep your mechanics sharp.

Gary the Grammarian

Dear Gary:

Your letter might be the most pompous, condescending and patronizing communication I have ever received.

The problem is that you have taken the “offending” sentence out of context. By itself, your criticism is correct, but the previous sentence makes it clear I am talking about the Indians.

It would have been redundant and awkward to repeat that it is the Tribe to whom I am referring, when it already is crystal clear even to you. How else did you know I didn’t mean the Nationals were playing the Reds?

No use trying to embarrass you, your cute little alias protects your identity.

By the way, in your first paragraph, there is no need for commas to enclose often. Guardrails? You could use a little help on your analogies.

S.O.


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