Post 12: Flat phones and drugged nurses

Area: grammar
Topic: participles erroneously made to refer to the object rather than the subject (related to posts 3 and 4)

It was with genuine sadness that I waved Utari goodbye, although our parting hadn’t passed off without a drama.
“What am I going do, what am I going do?” wailed my pupil, throwing her hands up with what looked like a gesture of abject despair.
To do, Utari.”
“What should I to do?”
“You should do.”
“But what???”
“No, no, we say ‘should do’, Utari. But what’s the problem?”
“My plane, they will not let me to fly!”
“Fly, fly!”
“I want, I want, but I cannot!”
“Whyever not, Utari?” She was shortly supposed to fly back home with Garuda Indonesia, and we had made a point of checking that her ticket was all in order.
“Because my phone, it is flat.”
“What do you mean?”
“This –The Daily Telegraph, they wrote this; look.” With this, she passed me that morning’s copy of the paper, which I hadn’t yet had the chance to peruse. The headline she was pointing at, which was splashed right across the front page, announced this.

You won’t fly if your phone is flat.

“My phone, it is flat,” repeated the young lady disconsolately.
“Just a sec, just a sec; let’s have a look.” My quick scan of the article confirmed my hunch. “It’s only for people travelling to the United States, Utari, so you needn’t worry.”
“So what are they going do? Phones, they are flat, no?”
To do, to do, Utari, but they didn’t mean it like this: when a phone is flat, it means it is uncharged. It’s to do with preventing terrorism: you must have your phone, or any other electrical gadget, charged to prove that it is a working device and that its batteries are not, in fact, hidden explosives.”
Her flat phone notwithstanding, Utari did indeed manage to make a successful getaway, and, after a few days’ break, I took receipt of another young executive who could not be accommodated by the enterprising Waverley. Juan, from Barcelona, was full of carambas, dios mios, exactamentes and vayas and took to my way of exposing my pupils to the marvels of English like a duck to water. What has particularly endeared him to me was his enthusiastically expressed love of reading, which he, apparently, indulged also during meals, I, too, exhibiting this proclivity – to the slight annoyance of my lawfully wedded. On our very first morning, over a baguette soaked in milk and sprinkled with cinnamon, which I fervently hoped would pass for torrijas, Juan was keenly leafing through a recent copy of The Sunday Telegraph when, suddenly, he went “caramba!”
“What’s the matter, Juan? Would you like sugar instead of cinnamon?”
“No del todo, no del todo: mucha testosterona is good for guy but bad for lady. You have muchas butch ladies in Inglaterra?”
Butch ladies? Like … like weight-lifters?”
“No, no, housewives!”
Housewives? I don’t think they are particularly butch, Juan.”
Juan looked somewhat nonplussed. “But they wrote … why they wrote this?”
“Why did they write this?”
“Exactamente, exactamente!”
“No, no, if it’s a question in the past tense, we use did. But what exactly did they write?” Juan pointed at the offending sentence, which went like this.

My outstanding memory was that despite bursting with testosterone, bored housewives never lured me into their home.

“Oh this – it’s a classic, Juan, an absolute classic. They have simply misrelated the participle ‘bursting’.”
“Por que?”
“Well, they didn’t do this on purpose. It’s just that participles are less explicit than complete verb forms, and some people don’t realise that those like this one will always refer to the subject of the clause which governs them.”
“You see, the subject governing this ‘bursting’ is ‘housewives’, but this writer tries to force the participle to refer to the object ‘me’.
“Dios mio!”
“This can be easily remedied, though: you just change the voice from active to passive and Bob’s … and … eso es!” Now, I hadn’t spent half of the previous night perusing a Spanish phrase-book for nothing, had I? “So they should have said something like this – and with ‘abiding’ rather than ‘outstanding’ memory.”

My abiding memory was that, despite bursting with testosterone, I was never lured by bored housewives into their home.

“I have plenty of similar examples, Juan. Listen to this; I found it in The Sunday Times.”

Morphined up to the hilt, the nurses later told me I went in [into the operating theatre] singing Bowie’s Rock’n’Roll Suicide.

“Indeed, indeed, Juan. Imagine being attended to by nurses off their head on drugs. Our good old National Health Service is in enough trouble as it is. What they meant was, of course, this.”

Morphined up to the hilt, I was later told by the nurses that I had gone in singing Bowie’s Rock’n’Roll Suicide.

“And this one is from the Daily Mail.”

Slowly cooked in the oven with a sprinkling of herbs, you might expect Mediterranean-style roasted vegetables would be one of the healthier dishes available.

“We eat in Barcelona muchas roasted vegetables.”
“I’m sure you do, Juan, but this writer is trying to cook you in the oven!”
“Dios mio!”
“Yep, but changing the voice usually does the trick; I’ve told you. What they were trying to say is this.”

Slowly cooked in the oven with a sprinkling of herbs, Mediterranean-style roasted vegetables might be expected to be one of the healthier dishes available.

“I have one more here for you, Juan – from The Times. It’s about Lord Snowdon, who was a famous photographer.”

After failing his architecture exams at Cambridge, Snowdon’s mother cabled him saying “on no account consider changing to photography”.

“Architecture, I studied also architecture.”
“Yes, but your mother did not fail your exams, did she?”
“No del todo, no del todo!”
“There you go. But if you change the voice to passive, you immediately detach the participle from the object and relate it to the subject – where it belongs.”

After failing his architecture exams at Cambridge, Snowdon was cabled by his mother saying “on no account consider changing to photography”.

Actually, I’ve written a little ditty about changing the voice whenever the participle is erroneously made to refer to the subject.”

It’s happened again? You’ve simply no choice
And must rescue sense by changing the voice;
If your participle has made a wrong match,
Split it from the object, be ruthless – detach!

“Gracias … I mean thank you, Juan.”


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