Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Math, grammar tips: multipliers, dangling modifiers

The latest Style & Substance newsletter from the Wall Street Journal is out (pdf).

Most of it is dedicated to frequent errors, such as dangling modifiers:
The most egregious recent example to find its way into print was the lead in a lead story with a dangling gerund: After facing one of the biggest legal assaults in corporate history, the smoke is clearing for Philip Morris USA. The smoke wasn't facing the assault, the company was, so rewording was required. A recent dangling participle: Born in Dickensian poverty in rural Louisiana, Ms. Wolfe's story has all the classic metaphors of a boxer's biography. If her story was born there, where was she born?
And multipliers:
If the U.S. spends $30 billion and Japan spends $10 billion on research and development, we spend three times as much as Japan (or two times more than Japan, including the basic $10 billion in the equation). Despite pleas to avoid the ambiguous expression times more than, the beat goes on: Example: Men whose pulses ran above 75 beats a minute while they were resting were nearly 3.5 times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than those with resting pulses below 60. We need to check the raw figures and then make it read X times as likely to.
There are more good lessons to review, plus the accustomed-to quiz and updates on business names (Chevron, which AP just covered, and Sears, which AP had already covered).

The paper is also switching to the new names of some Indian cities: Bombay becomes Mumbai; Madras becomes Chennai, and Calcutta becomes Kolkata.


At 8:39 PM, June 08, 2005, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

"One-Armed Bandit Gambit" my ass.

At 12:16 AM, June 09, 2005, Blogger aparker54 said...

In Answer No. 2, Paul R. Martin says that "a vise isn't three-dimensional."

At 1:09 AM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I used to consider "times more than" an ambiguity that needed to be checked, but now I'm convinced it's virtually always a flawed attempt to say "times as much as."

As Doug Fisher, who's been doing some research into this point recently, can tell you, plenty of otherwise sane word people find nothing wrong with "times more than" or even -- gasp -- "times less than."

At 11:42 AM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

I noticed that, Alison. Those two-dimensional clamps aren't quite as scary, in my book.

But do you agree with the sentiment that two vise clamps should equal two conflicting pressures?

It would be easy to fix in that example, "Fathers are increasingly caught in that vice of competing pressures of career, kids and home." "Kids," if they exist, are usually included in "home," no?

At 11:45 AM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Phil, what did you think of "Pot O' Goldman"?

At 2:58 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger aparker54 said...

I agree that the sentence mangles the vise metaphor. The fix, however, probably isn't as easy as merging "kids" with "home." Sad to say, a lot of kids don't live with their fathers. Or am I quibbling, as usual?

At 3:01 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

I think it's a matter of work life vs. home life. Kids, whether they live at home or not, are still part of your home life.


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