Time and Time Again


Since I ref­er­enced the Feb. 8, 2010, issue of Time mag­a­zine in my pre­vi­ous post, point­ing out a gram­mat­i­cal error — or, at the very least, a sub­head­ing that could have been writ­ten more accu­rately — I thought I’d use the same issue this time to point out an exam­ple of cor­rect, though awkward-sounding, sen­tence structure.

Mark Halperin writes (whether with a copyeditor’s assis­tance or with his or her tacit cor­rob­o­ra­tion): “But Obama (and for that mat­ter, the Clin­tons them­selves) has a long his­tory of…” (For the rest of the quote and the pol­i­tics of it, you’ll have to read the arti­cle; what I’m inter­ested in here is purely cel­e­brat­ing the mechan­ics of good writing.)

What is so delight­ful is that Mr. Halperin gets it right — as odd as it sounds! The sen­tence sounds wrong because we hear “Clin­tons them­selves” — a plural noun phrase — right next to “has” — a sin­gu­lar verb. It’s always good to watch out for such errors; they’re easy to make. But what we don’t “hear” in the sen­tence at hand is the paren­the­sis between the two parts of speech. “Has” actu­ally goes along with what comes before the entire par­en­thet­i­cal phrase, “and for that mat­ter, the Clin­tons them­selves”; “has” goes with “Obama”: sin­gu­lar noun, sin­gu­lar verb — per­fect! We see, and hear, this clearly if we skip over the part in paren­the­ses and read like so: “But Obama has a long his­tory of.…” But it’s so com­mon for a writer to trip over this kind of struc­ture because “have” would sound right.

Con­grat­u­la­tions, Mr. Halperin and your edi­to­r­ial staff!

The irony is that it’s entirely pos­si­ble that the same copy­ed­i­tor who approved this accu­rate struc­ture also slid over the less-than-accurate one I dis­cussed yes­ter­day. We’re all human, after all — even copy­ed­i­tors and proof­read­ers! We win some; we lose some! (If we’ve man­aged to accrue a few pos­i­tive client rec­om­men­da­tions, we likely win far more than we lose. But we will still miss on occa­sion.) Yet mis­takes are usu­ally what gar­ner atten­tion, so I wanted to lift up this delight­ful, if some­what unlikely, success.

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