Monday, June 9, 2014

Grammar errors and ambiguity

Grammar and ambiguity

I am about to get what some might consider nitpicky/nitpickety.

"Corcoran and her fellow researchers found plastiglomerates on more than 20 sites across Kamilo Beach, and they believe they could probably found on beaches around the world.'

Typo? Maybe. Grammar error? Maybe. Whatever it is, I resent it. Sure, the author might 
have meant to say, "probably find more." But by the same token, she might have meant to write, "probably have found more." One means that they are still finding or in  the process of finding plastiglomerates, our new human calling card. The other means that they have finished. The project is a done deal. No more rushing off to beaches to encounter, record and analyze plastiglomerates.

And did she mean to write "more?"  "Many more?" "A whole caseload and basket more?" "A bushel and a peck more?"  "Most assuredly more?" "Unquestionably a great deal more?"

Many grammar errors don't make it impossible to understand the writer's words. But they introduce a degree of ambiguity. Why take the chance that half of your readers will interpretyour sentence one way, and the other half will read an entirely different meaning? Worst of all, why leave readers straddling two or more possible meanings, or making your sentence a cousin of Schrodinger's cat?

And worst of all: why do I have to do the work of interpreting a sentence. the meaning of 

which should have been crystal clear? The last time I looked, I was not being paid to 

interpret another writer's sentence. I don't want to get stuck doing another writer's work.

Unless, of course, I were to get paid.

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