Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Zeugma (2).

Zeugma (2). Today: Erroneous Uses. Sometimes zeugma is a kind of grammatical error, as when a single word refers to two or more words in the sentence when it properly applies to only one of them. One type, the nontransferable auxiliary, plagues writers who habitually try to express their ideas in the alternative — e.g.: o “At the same time, the number of people magnets Disney has or will put on its property has multiplied.” Tom Brinkmoeller, “Warren Key in a Whole New Competitive World,” Orlando Bus. J., 9 Feb. 1996, at 24. (“Put” is made both a past-tense and a present-tense verb; insert another “put” after “has.”) o “Although outside professionals have and will be called in to work on the station, firefighters will do most of the work.” “Congrats Achievements,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 July 1996, at B3. (Insert “been” after “have”; otherwise, “called” is nonsensically made both active and passive.) o “U.S. policy toward Latin America has and will continue to be held hostage to the whims of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its chairman.” Denise Dresser, “Helms’ Opposition Makes Weld Look Fine to Mexico,” Houston Chron., 6 Aug. 1997, at 29. (“Has” doesn’t match up with “be held”; insert “been” after “has.”) Although commentators have historically tried to distinguish between zeugma and syllepsis, the distinctions have been confusing and contradictory: “even today agreement on definitions in the rhetorical handbooks is virtually nil.” The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 1383 (Alex Preminger & T.V.F. Brogan eds., 1993). We’re better off using “zeugma” in its broadest sense and not confusing matters by introducing “syllepsis,” a little-known term whose meaning not even the experts agree on. For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “If you’ve written a paragraph that sounds heavy and tortured, put down your pencil and ask yourself: ‘If I were actually speaking these thoughts to a friend, how would I probably say them?’ Then go ahead and talk them out loud, and when you’re finished, write down as nearly as you can recall what you said. The chances are good that many of your talked-out sentences will be an improvement over the earlier, labored version of them.” John R. Trimble, Writing with Style 81-82 (1975).
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