Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The river hardened into rock? Back to Rule No. 1 -- Every sentence gotta make sense!

A year ago we looked at the following sentence from the National Geographic with a portrait of the 3.3-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis baby girl on its cover:

"He doesn't know how the Dikika baby died, but the river must have rapidly buried the body in pebbles and sand, protecting it from scavengers and weather before gradually hardening into rock."

Yes, yes -- we know what the sentence meant to say. But it didn't say it!

We could put another "it" between "hardening" and "into," but that would make the sentence say that the river hardened the body of the Australopithecus afarensis into rock.

It would be better to say, "before it gradually hardened into rock."
But even with that fix, we're saying that the body hardened into rock.. It was just her bones and skull that were fossilized into rock. So why not say, ". . . before her bones were gradually fossilized into rock."?

Harbrace Chapter 1: Sentence Sense, begins with the rule: To think more clearly and write more effectively, understand how sentences work.
Writing a clear, precise sentence is an art, says Harbrace, and you can master that art by developing your awareness of what makes sentences work.

In Ruge Rules, Ferdinand E. Ruge states this as, "Every sentence must lend itself to logical analysis. In other words, every sentence gotta make sense!"

Finally, don't you think the A. afarensis baby looks like aerobics guru Richard (Sweatin' to the Oldies) Simmons?

No comments: