“Isn’t it stationed in London?”
“Shard. Actually, I observed it – before I reached here.”
“No, no, Chen, she means Chardonnay – her daughter.”
Waverley (whom I had introduced in my first blog post) was indeed screaming her daughter’s name at the top of her lungs. This was the usual volume at which she transmitted her messages to her offspring, which is why we were privy to more of her family’s goings-on than we would have elected to be, Waverley and her clan residing right next door. As usual, she was chocka with overseas executives trying to improve their English with Waverleys Executive English, and Chen, a delightful Chinese lady, was her latest overspill, which she, as usual, channelled in my direction.
“I didn’ tell her you was Polish, like,” reassured me Waverley.
“No, not where – were: you were.”
“I was what, hon?”
“No, no, I mean you were Polish.”
“Was I heck as like. I’m an East End gal, me. ”
“No, Wave, what I meant was … oh, never mind.”
Akito, my lovely Japanese student having, regrettably, now returned to Tokyo, I was very happy to host Chen, who turned out to be equally well-mannered. Slightly older than Akito – late twenties, perhaps – she was a currency trader in Beijing, and her English was much better, if a tad artificial, which was, of course, completely understandable. This is why I had no hesitation in exposing her to the sophisticated language of the British newspapers and had organised a few for her to peruse, Chen seizing on them with gratifying eagerness.
“How do you effectuate this here?”
“Capital punishment. In China, we shoot or offer a mortal injection.”
Chen nodded. “Much obliged, lethal injection.”
“But we have no death penalty in Britain.”
Chen looked somewhat nonplussed. “But … but they … but this … ” Slightly hesitatingly, she handed me a copy of The Independent she had been reading. “Here, please observe this.” She pointed out the source of her discombobulation, her physiognomy now decidedly perplexed. I read the offending sentence, which went like this.
Until disposed of, she will, in effect, be in limbo.
“Oh this, ha, ha, ha! They simply hanged the participle, Chen.”
“Hanged? So you do hang here?”
“No, no, no, not people – participles. It’s an extremely common error.”
“But … but you explicated that this Independent was a quality newspaper … ”
“It is indeed; well, it’s supposed to be, anyway. But they hang their participles everywhere: on the TV and radio, in education, in government, in the … ”
“In government!?! Our Communist Party would not license any error.” On arrival, Chen had proudly informed me that she was a dedicated member of the Communist Party of China. I briefly wondered how a conviction communist becomes a currency trader, but I was too preoccupied with my duties to dissect this conundrum with sufficient analyticity.
“A-a-a-a, but we have democracy here. Uhrm … I mean … what I was trying to say is that we cherish our press freedom … no, no, I mean … ehem, ehem … ” My desperate attempt to extricate myself from my faux-pas only appeared to make matters worse, for Chen shot me a look infused with incredulity. It was clear that a scientific approach was called for.
“What I meant, Chen, was that participles such as this disposed always relate to the subject of the clause which governs them, but people often erroneously relate them to words from an earlier context.”
“In Great Britain?”
“Yep. Such misrelated participles are called ‘unattached’, ‘unrelated’, ‘disconnected’, ‘suspended’, ‘pendant’, ‘hanging’ or ‘dangling’. You see, they were talking about her late husband’s frozen sperm, so what they should have said is this.”
Until it [OR the sperm] is disposed of, she will, in effect, be in limbo.
Having cogitated for a brief moment, Chen nodded.
“But that’s not the only type of dangling participle, Chen.”
“It is not?”
“Nope. People often misrelate participles within the same sentence; in fact, this blunder is even more common.”
“Even more common?”
“Yep. I remember this one – from the BBC.” “From the BBC?”
“Yep; listen.” The sentence, which had firmly lodged itself in my cerebrum, went like this.
After leaving a trail of destruction, forecasters predict the rain will continue.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the forecasters who wreaked such havoc but the rain: the BBC can’t have realised that an initial participle such as this leaving will always relate to its subject.”
“You signify the British Broadcasting Corporation?”
“‘Fraid so, Chen. So which is the subject of the participle leaving?”
“Spot on. But this participle is meant to refer to the rain, of course, so what they should have said is this.”
After leaving a trail of destruction, the rain will continue predict forecasters.
“Or ‘according to forecasters’. And this was said on ITV1; it’s another of our TV channels.” I quoted the indelible sentence.
Found dead in her bed, tonight her uncle is under arrest.
“Is this veracious?”
“Yep, it’s absolutely true they came up with this, but the uncle hadn’t died, of course. So we’d have to say something along those lines.”
She was found dead in her bed, and, tonight, her uncle is under arrest.
“Thoroughly,” agreed the young lady.
“Actually, Chen, this error is so widespread that I have written a whole book about it; it’s called Hilarity with Misrelated Participles. I also compose little ditties; I’ve penned one about the importance of identifying the subject to avoid this mishap. It’s from another book of mine: An Alien in a Madhouse; listen.”
Your position will be abject
If you can’t pinpoint the subject:
You will trip and, in your tangle,
Make your participles dangle.
“Applaudable,” opined Chen in her inimitable fashion.
“Thank you, Chen.”