Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Wooden Legs and Mustaches by Andy Scheer
If you've ever watched Mary Poppins, you've received fair warning about dangling modifiers.
Been a few years since you've watched it? Let me remind you of this key example of grammatical humor.
Bert the chimney sweep (played by Dick Van Dyke) tells Uncle Albert (played by Ed Wynn), “Speakin' o' names, I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.”
“What's the name of his other leg?” Uncle Albert says.
A classic case of a dangling modifier, when a word or phrase wanders too far from the term it should stay close to—and attaches itself to a stranger—with strange results.
But in all my years of editing, I've never caught a full-grown wild one, a dangler the likes of a leg named Smith. Sure, I've caught my share of textbook examples like these:
Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.
Walking down Main Street, the trees were beautiful.
I saw the trailer peeking through the window.
All mildly amusing and in need of rewriting, but nothing worthy of Bert and Uncle Albert. But this past week, I finally caught a whopper.
Consider this sentence from a fiction manuscript:
A receptionist escorted them to the office of the canal security director, a poised man with a thin mustache named Madrid.
What were his sideburns named?