Separate those mixed metaphors!

September 26th, 2007
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“For Gilles Duceppe, the result translates in [sic] a pincer movement that could choke his party out of existence over the next few election cycles. And that means that the odds that the Bloc will support next month’s Speech from the Throne have now become longer.”Chantal Hébert, Toronto Star, September 19, 2007

We’ve always enjoyed the muscular prose of this doughty Quebecoise separatist, long ago taking note of her formidable command of the English language, a grasp superior to that of many ostensibly native-speaking journalists. This incidentally places her in a long literary tradition of writers working in an adopted tongue, from Joseph Conrad to the Mr. K. Senior.

Still, we couldn’t ignore the multiple layered Stupidisms in this passage. As alert reader Bob Hooper pointed out, “long” odds represent a low probability or a poor chance. Ms. Hébert’s meaning was the opposite – the Bloc’s worsening political position has in her view increased the chances that the party will back the government.

The passage contained four additional, individually minor Stupidisms: 1) something translates “into” something else; 2) the absurdly, almost journalism-school-case-study-level mixed metaphor (pincer movement and choking); 3) the annoying triple-recurrence of “that” in half a sentence (newspapers normally purge every needless instance of this preposition); and 4) the odd mix of tenses (“have now become longer”) No, they “became” longer (in fact, as discussed above, shorter), when the event in question happened).

Minor, sloppy errors creep into the work product of nearly all professional writers rattling off articles to deadline. This error-laden passage mostly reflects poor editing. It’s another manifestation of the extinction of the curmudgeonly, chain-smoking, sweaty-shirted, visored old copy editor who used to inhabit every newsroom, terrorizing the newcomers. But hey, words are just a commodity, right?

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