By Bob Yearick

Media Watch

USA TODAY appears often in “War” because it is haphazardly written and edited. Here’s a not untypical example — two sentences from a recent story by Jordan Mendoza, with errors in italics and my comments in parentheses: “When officers arrived, deputies saw a person (OK, were they officers or deputies? Why not stick with officers — which pretty much covers everyone in law enforcement — and use the pronoun they instead of deputies?) laying in the hallway (the verb is lying; laying means placing, putting) . . . After arriving, officers heard a gunshot from further inside the house (farther is used for physical distances; further is for figurative distance).” 

•Reader Luann Haney submits this from an online article about the Covid lockdown: “Many folks were stuck in a sedimentary lifestyle for months.” The writer meant sedentary — “tending to spend much time seated; somewhat inactive.” Sedimentary means of, relating to, or containing sediment. Luann’s comment: “People can be such stick-in-the-muds.”

A Deluge of Danglers

A modifying phrase or clause in a sentence must clearly and sensibly modify a word in the sentence. In a correct sentence, the subject (or doer) that is modified should immediately follow the comma after the modifier. When a sentence does not clearly state the subject being modified, the introductory phrase (which almost always begins with a preposition or participle) becomes a dangling modifier. 

It seems that a growing number of writers just don’t grasp this concept. Here are recent examples, with the incorrectly modified word italicized and the word that should be modified in boldface:

•A reader spotted this, the intro for Sanjay Gupta’s podcast, on “After swimming from Cuba to Key West at age 64, Dr. Sanjay Gupta asks Diana Nyad about how she’s staying fit into her 70s.”

•Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, reviewing And Just Like That, the sequel to Sex and the City: “After pulling out a box, we cut to Carrie in a revamped version of her old wedding gown. . .”

•Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY: “When entering Yellowstone National Park, a park ranger hands visitors a pamphlet full of helpful information.”

•A reader heard this on a WDEL network newscast: “With less than a day of oxygen left, searchers are hoping to find the submersible.”  

•In this example, as is often the case, there is no word that the modifier can describe: Keith Pompey, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, writing about the Sixers’ Paul Reed — “Sweeping the NBA G League MVP and rookie of the year honors in 2021, one can argue the potential was always there.”

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we address the ongoing abuse of the apostrophe)

Although noting that it was quickly corrected, reader Jane Buck found this headline in “Breaking News: Supreme Court Block’s Biden’s Debt-Relief Plan.” Hmmm . . . that’s not even a plural, which is where misplaced apostrophes usually appear.

Menu Mishaps

A reader noticed that the menu for the new Mission BBQ on Concord Pike lists “Cold Slaw” as one of its dishes. I’m sure it’s refreshing during these dog days of summer.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Gobsmacked! This Britishism is the perfect word for my reaction while watching the first episode of the fourth and final season of Jack Ryan on Prime Video. Dr. Ryan, played by John Krasinski, is testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee when he refers to his “former predecessor.” A predecessor, as everyone knows, is someone who formerly held the office or job. And Dr. Ryan’s predecessor will always be his predecessor, never his former predecessor.  

Maybe I’m over-reacting (imagine that!), but it amazes me that someone wrote those words, then innumerable people had to read them and approve them, a director had to direct the scene, and finally Krasinski — who seems like a smart guy — had to speak them. Astounding.

•A news anchor on WDEL made a common mistake when he reported that a car was “traveling at a high rate of speed.” Speed itself is a rate — it’s defined as the rate at which someone or something is able to move. Better to say, “traveling at a high speed” or “at a high rate.” 

Word of the Month


Pronounced pol-tur, it’s a verb meaning 1. to act insincerely or deceitfully: equivocate; 2. haggle.

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Bob Yearick
The copy editor of Out & About, Bob Yearick retired from DuPont in 2000 after 34 years as an editor and writer. Since “retiring,” Bob has written articles for Delaware Today, Main Line Today and other publications. His sports/suspense novel, Sawyer, was published in 2007. His grammar column, “The War on Words,” is one of the most popular features in O&A. A compilation of the columns was published in 2011. He has won the Out & About short story contest as well as many awards in the annual Delaware Press Association writing contest.

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