Beyond nonsense: Things copy editors find funny–part 2
Yesterday I dug up some examples of questionable writing from an early 1990s file folder I labeled “nonsense.”
Today’s examples go a little beyond nonsense. They’re absurd. Do you think even the writers knew what they were trying to say?
Sometimes copy editing isn’t about making good writing better. It’s about making the ludicrous just barely publishable.
As I recall, I did figure out more or less what the writers were getting at. Can you?
- “Nineteenth-century novelist Ivan Turgenev, whose brain is also kept at the 100-year-old institute, is one-third heavier than Mr. Lenin’s, and has nooks and crannies that impress its keepers.”
- “This assumes that the clippings are free from the chemical residues that we flush through most lawns with such regularity. Just as residues may poison a child who plays on the lawn, and cause costly veterinary problems for pets, they create even longer-term problems for society as a whole when trapped in landfills.”
- “In this remote county of about 7,200 in the Rocky Mountain foothills about 40 miles southwest of Denver, where workers face the longest average commuting time in the nation–41 minutes each way–the Senate vote to raise the federal gasoline taxes to 18.4 cents a gallon from 41 cents.”
Mm, nooks and crannies. I’m craving an English muffin. Ew, wait, this is about brains. I’m not craving brains. Speaking of brains, is this sentence really trying to say that Ivan Turgenev, the writer, was one-third heavier than Mr. Lenin’s brain?
And a society as a whole trapped in a landfill has enough to worry about.
And there the sentence ends. I guess the writer couldn’t think of a way to slip in another number and lost interest.
Is there a meaningful grammatical lesson to be learned here? Probably not. But when otherwise competent writers turn in sentences like these, it’s time to remind them to reread their own work before hitting send.