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It may sound a bit “naughty” – but dangler is a real writing term – even mentioned in the very proper and respected BBC Style Guide.
The correct term is dangling modifier – but Dangler sounds more interesting!
This is what the BBC guide says about Danglers – and I’ll include a link at the end of this post on how you can access the Style guide.
“Phrases at the beginning of a sentence need a noun or a pronoun, and they will cling to the first one that comes along.This can make a nonsense of your writing. “
The guide gives several examples. My favourite is:
After eating my lunch, the waiter engaged me in conversation.
The dangling words at the beginning of the sentence cling to the first noun or pronoun that comes along and make a nonsense.
It sounds as if the waiter ate the lunch!
Because broadcast news writers (radio and television) try to write so briefly with compressed sentences – danglers are rampant.
Here’s a glaring example I heard on a major Australian Television news bulletin last night.
Ranked fourth over all behind the ACT, New South Wales, and Victoria, the government believes our kids could do better if they had better teachers.
The reality was that Queensland students were ranked fourth – but it sounds as if the Queensland government was ranked fourth.
One more time!
Ranked fourth over all behind the ACT, New South Wales, and Victoria (THE DANGLER), the government (FIRST NOUN OF PRONOUN THAT THE DANGLER CLINGS TO) believes our kids could do better if they had better teachers.
Here’s an even worse “clanger” – once again from a major Australian TV News Network.
As a young reporter I made mistakes too – but I had bosses and more experienced colleagues who would kick my butt and correct my “copy”!
Can you see the problems with this atrocious news writing?
Laying on the ground, the thugs stomped on his head.
1. It should be lying not laying. (a common mistake)
2. The “dangler” (dangling modifier) says the THUGS were the ones “laying on the ground”.
So here’s how you can correct.
One way to fix is to state who was lying on the ground.
As X was lying on the ground, the thugs stomped on his head.
The thugs knocked X to the ground – then stomped on his head.
Put nouns (subjects) early on in the sentence – before the verbs.
From experience I know how busy it is reporting on the road and putting a story together under deadline pressure.
That’s why it’s important to have subs or editors check the stories for errors.
It’s not enough just to catch and correct errors – it’s important to go further and to help those who make the mistakes learn how to fix their “errors”.
Here’s a link go another rant about danglers.
And here’s a link to the BBC style guide:
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