The wrongly attached participle

From today’s Times:

A parliamentary select committee is embarking on a taxpayer-funded visit to California this weekend, even though it will cease to exist within weeks.

If this sentence feels a bit odd to you, join the club! It’s a perfect example of one of the classic grammatical errors: the wrongly attached participle.

The author’s quite reasonable outrage is made rather less reasonable if you consider that, as the sentence stands, it’s making the rather fatuous observation that this weekend will “cease to exist within weeks”. One might, perhaps, more accurately observe that this weekend will cease to exist in fewer than 48 hours!

Of course that’s not what the author means! All he need do, to rectify the situation, is move the participle from the beginning to the end:

Even though it will cease to exist within weeks,parliamentary select committee is embarking on a taxpayer-funded visit to California this weekend.

Now the sentence is making the author’s intended point: that the members of a soon-to-be-dissolved parliamentary committee have no business wasting taxpayers’ money on a jaunt to the Sunshine State!

Attention to detail

Many of my friends work as freelance consultants, in a variety of disciplines: social media, software development, marketing, accounting, etc. In other words, they’re selling themselves, their expertise, their experience, and their ability to solve problems for their clients.

In many of those roles, they’ll be expected to bring a high level of attention to detail. With that in mind, I cringe when I read some of their websites, blog posts, articles, tweets and Facebook posts. Why? Because those posts display very poor attention to detail, showcasing spelling mistakes, typos, poor grammar, unclear sentence structure, etc.

The saddest aspect of this is that, if they so chose, they could employ a proof-reader or copy editor for a few pounds or tens of pounds, thereby saving themselves all the bad impressions they create by their poor use of English.

If this post speaks to you, please consider checking out a free trial from The Copy Editors. It might just be your best decision of the day!

Spoiling the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar

When I was about six years old, my Grandfather said something that I still remember to this day: “….spoiling the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar”. Having no real idea, I asked him what it meant, and he told me that it was an old sailor’s saying.

What it means, literally, is that omitting a ha’penny-worth of tar could render a £50,000 (or £50M) ship unseaworthy. What it means, metaphorically, is neglecting or omitting a small thing and thus destroying or compromising the value of something costly.

Given that our beat is words, I am, of course, talking particularly about business owners who spend thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of pounds on a new website, yet neglect to spend a few hundreds on a proof-reader or copy editor. Instead of making a good impression, they end up leaving their readers (or prospects) with an uneasy sense that their attention to detail is poor.

In three words, DON’T DO IT!!!