Yesterday I spent the day at the Harris Arts Center in Calhoun GA, signing books in the morning and conducting a writer’s workshop in the afternoon. One of the benefits of the workshop was that the attendees would get not only a copy of my writer’s workbook, but also handouts with writing exercises and additional “stuff” to think about--stuff that will hopefully help them to improve their writing.
One of the handouts was a copy of an essay I wrote for publication in July of 2010. It’s kind of fun, and I think you’ll be able to enjoy it even if you’re not a writer. Here it is:
Bare Feet and Wet Slides - Misplaced Modifiers
Last month I saw a lovely example of misplaced modifiers on my way to the AWC annual picnic. I love signs that are placed strategically half-way up a steep hill. They give me the perfect excuse to pause ostensibly to read them while in reality I am merely catching my breath.
I read somewhere or other of studies having been conducted in playgrounds, comparing an empty city lot, strewn with broken glass, rusty metal, and discarded splinter-ridden wood, to a scientifically-designed, primary-colored, splinter-free wonderland. Guess where the most injuries occurred? Uh-huh in the "safe" place. Which may be why rules and warning signs are posted in the so-called safe play areas.
At any rate, the ten or twelve RULES were clearly delineated. I admit I didn’t read them all. I got stuck on number three. Do Not, it said, Use Equipment When Wet. Hmm. When the equipment is wet? Or when I am wet? Regardless of what the intent of the rule was, whyever not? Slides are great fun when they’re wet. And if I’m the one who’s wet, what’s the difference?
In our litigious-minded society, such CYA signs are as ubiquitous as they are silly. It seems to me that I should be responsible for my own safety or for that of my children. Common sense and a few basic precepts of cause and effect truly ought to prevent most mishaps. Rather like judicious editing, which ought to prevent the publication of hogwash.
I made it to rule number five before I gave up. Bare Feet May Cause Injury. Hmm, again. I suppose any sort of foot might conceivably cause injury, whether or not it is bare, but only if that foot is used, inadvertently or intentionally, as a weapon. The fact that I can surmise what the rule-writer intended to say is not the point. The point is that our sloppy rule-writer did not say what he or she intended. First of all, rule number five is not really a rule; it’s a badly-phrased warning. Bare feet may result in injury would make more sense, although trying to keep children from running around barefoot on the off-hand chance that an injury might occur makes about as much sense as keeping wet people off the slides, or keeping people off the wet slides. At a retreat several years ago, I walked through glowing coals, hot enough to melt a car engine, and still have my feet intact. Bare feet may, therefore, not result in injury.
While we’re talking about the effective use of the English language – we are talking about that in one form or another – I should mention that when I was in seventh grade I was the star ghost-story raconteur at every sleep-over my friends and I had. I was, that is, until the fateful night I ruined a perfectly good story by describing a ghost who was inching its way up a staircase, making a clutching sound. Giggles erupted as eight little girls tried to figure out what a clutching sound would sound like. “The ghost was clutching at the banister,” I tried to explain, but it was too late. The mood was destroyed and I never did get to finish the story. Every time I got to the staircase, hilarity ensued.
So, maybe I’m over-sensitive about misplaced modifiers, but I do strongly object to the sloppy use of the English language. Rules that make no sense. Warnings that are just plain silly. Stories that never make it to the ghostly ending.
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Just for the fun of it -- tell somebody a good story today.
BEEattitude for Day #572:
Blessed are those who walk outside each day, for they shall--perhaps--see us bees and be gladdened by the sight.
The teeny details:
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