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Dear Reader, maybe you think I’m too hard on our paid praters, the people who make their living by generating verbiage for mass-consumption.  Maybe I am.  After all, they have a twenty-four-hour news cycle to contend with.  They must churn out the words in a constant stream, and they don’t have time to worry about things like grammar and style.

Well, in my opinion, if they don’t have time to write well, they shouldn’t be writing.  Bad writing is a product of sloppy thinking, and it spreads sloppy thinking.  People who read or hear bad writing naturally pick it up and imitate it when they speak or write.  They quit thinking about what they’re saying or writing, and content themselves with saying approximately what they mean to say.

An easy example, which we encounter almost every day, is misplaced number agreement:

The trouble with these airplanes are that they’re too noisy.

(I’m not quoting anybody here, but I’m sure you can find any number of real examples.)  I have the impression that people nowadays get this kind of thing wrong at least as often as they get it right.  The verb is given the number of the nearest noun (“airplanes are”), even if that noun isn’t the agent of the verb (“the trouble . . . are”).

Here’s a more elaborate example by a paid prater:

According to the magazine, McDougal, a Republican, was at first reluctant to speak about her alleged affair during the presidential campaign, fearing that Trump supporters might accuse her of fabricating her account or harming her or her family.

Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/politics/donald-trump-karen-mcdougal-national-enquirer/index.html.

As written, the sentence declares that

  1. McDougal was afraid
  2. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might accuse her
  3. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might accuse her of fabricating her account
  4. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might accuse her of harming her
  5. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might accuse her of harming her family.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that that is not what the reporter meant to declare.  I think that what she meant to declare was

  1. McDougal was afraid
  2. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might accuse her of fabricating her account
  3. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might harm her
  4. McDougal was afraid that Trump supporters might harm her family.

Does it matter that that’s not what she wrote?  You tell me, Dear Reader—but if your answer is “No,” please make an argument to support it.

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