Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Illogic (3).

Illogic (3). Part A: Danglers and Misplaced Modifiers. Every dangler or misplaced modifier perverts logic to some degree, sometimes humorously — e.g.: “I saw the Statue of Liberty flying into Newark.” To avoid these disruptions of thought, remember that a participle should relate to a noun that’s capable of performing the participle’s action. Part B: The Disjointed Appositive. Phrases intended to be in apposition shouldn’t be separated — e.g.: “A respected English legal authority on the common law, the view of William Blackstone permeated much of the early thinking on freedom of expression.” John Murray, The Media Law Dictionary 11 (1978). (Blackstone himself, not Blackstone’s view, is the respected authority.) Part C: Mistaken Subject of a Prepositional Phrase. This problem crops up usually when a word or phrase intervenes between the noun and the prepositional phrase referring to that noun. Often, as here, the noun (“school bus”) functions as an adjective: “Wallin was the school bus driver in which [read ‘Wallin was driving the school bus in which’] Hillman and Ellington and Kleven were passengers.” Part D. Poor Exposition of Sequence. Don’t ask your readers to assume what is not logically possible by your very assumptions — e.g.: “The twin-engine turbo prop Merlin Fairchild 300 carrying driver Alan Kulwicki and three other men suddenly dropped off the radar screen and crashed shortly before landing.” Karen Allen & Erik Brady, “Motor Sports,” USA Today, 5 Apr. 1993, at C9. (Because the plane “landed” when it crashed, the logic of the temporal sequence is flawed.) Next: “Times Less Than.” For more information about the Language Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Few people . . . have had much training in listening. The training of most oververbalized professional intellectuals is in the opposite direction. Living in a competitive culture, most of us are most of the time chiefly concerned with getting our own views across, and we tend to find other people’s speeches a tedious interruption of the flow of our own ideas.” S.I. Hayakawa, Symbol, Status, and Personality 32 (1963).
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