Friday, August 28, 2009

Interesting Relative Clause Placement

Copy editing somewhat-green writers is starting to affect me. On several occasions lately I have found myself mentally editing the sentences of someone talking on TV or radio. Not a good sign.

That may be why I found this sentence in today's New York Times so striking. Then again, maybe the sentence is striking. It's from a review of Big Fan starring Patton Oswalt (whose standup comedy I love, by the way). What interests me is the placement of the "who" clause.

He’s a regular guy or as close to regular as any 35-year-old can possibly be who sleeps under a poster of his favorite football star while tucked under a coverlet imprinted with the names of N.F.L. teams.

I can see why the writer/editor didn't want to put it immediately after "35-year-old," which is where, in a shorter sentence, it should probably be. To do that you'd have to move the verb phrase "can possibly be" all the way to the end of the sentence. Still, it seems the Times could have found a better way.

True, I'm not coming up with anything better -- at least not with so little coffee in me. But that's why I can't land a job at the Times.

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Adrian Morgan said...

I'd probably leave it alone, on the grounds that a touch of grammatical looseness suits the informal, conversational tone of the sentence.

However, if it must be corrected, how about:
" ... as it's possible to be for a 35-year-old who ... " ?
That's the best solution I have.

June Casagrande said...

Dang it. That's what I was reaching for but failing to grasp this morning. Had I been the ditor and had I been on top of my game, that's what I'd have done.

Then again, that's probably just a knee-jerk reaction that comes from spending so much time fixing bad copy. I suppose that editors of top publications are less conditioned to "fix" every weird structure.

Di said...

Isn't it also acceptable to use "NFL" instead of using periods in the abbreviation. To me it looks awkward with the periods.

June Casagrande said...

I didn't even notice that.

Yes. The vast majority of newspapers and other publications would leave out the periods. NY Times style tends to be silly about stuff like that. They use an apostrophe in "1980s" whereas no one else does. The do the whole "Mr." thing. They're sassy like that.

But I agree. There's no reason to put periods in most initialisms, especially such well known ones as NFL.


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