Editing for a living is great for many reasons, one of which is that there is such rich comedic material seemingly everywhere we look because we can’t turn off our editorial propensities. Take this rest-area notice, for example, discovered along our recent travels:
Okay, so this tragically punctuated sign is funny, but many might ask, “So what? Most people understand the idea, right? What’s the big deal?”
Fair enough, theoretically; not everyone cringes (or, in our case, laughs heartily) at poor punctuation, and not everyone even notices it.
If your curiosity is piqued, check out the article for the nitty-gritty. Suffice it to say that the three truck drivers who homed in on the lack of a serial comma in that particular section of Maine state law and subsequently won $5 million for their four years’ worth of denied overtime pay should make every English teacher—and every editor—proud.
While we are no longer living north of the Forty-Fourth Parallel (or at least not full-time), it is still exciting to welcome spring and all that it promises.
It is also worth the optimism of springlike photographs!
I also really enjoy the glee heralded by last day of winter … in some ways even more than the first day of spring. While the first day of spring is like eagerly planting a flag on a long-anticipated and enticing patch of turf, dreaming of pleasant things to come, the last day of winter offers the smug satisfaction of accomplishment. Finishing the last page of a book, after all, is much more gratifying than finishing the first page of a new one.
Best wishes for your springtime! May the seeds you plant—whatever they may be—burst forth with all that makes your spirit sing.
One of the blessings of editing for a living is the unintentional hilarity that is so often peppered throughout our workdays when we discover words and phrases used in ways the authors had not intended. Recall from our September 2016 article “Huh?” that when words are strung together without clear intention, the message conveyed to readers is often not at all what the author had in mind. One of the many perks of this career is finding amusement in those unintended messages.
One rich source of seemingly unceasing amusement is the dangling modifier.
What is a dangling modifier (also called a misplaced modifier)?
Well, let’s start by explaining what modifiers are: in essence, they are words (and sometimes phrases) that provide additional detail and description about something. The often amusing dangling modifier, however, is one that leaves unclear that which is being modified.
While of course we would never use our authors’ working drafts to illustrate our point, it is always fair game to point out other examples already available for public consumption. Consider, for instance, this jim-dandy, which was intended as instructions for bottle-feeding a baby:
See anything wrong with this phrasing? (We sure hope you do if you have anything at all to do with feeding babies!)
As we’ve mentioned, while dangling/misplaced modifiers are often confusing, for editors in particular, they are also often downright hilarious. Here are some fantastic examples provided by the University of Wisconsin–Madison:
Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed. (Why is this wrong? Because the deer was not the one driving.)
With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle around the arena. (The poodle held his tail high, not the father.)
I saw the dead dog driving down the interstate. (Dogs can’t drive, and especially not dead dogs.)
He wore a straw hat on his head, which was obviously too small. (His head was obviously too small? Oh, my!)
The woman walked the dog in purple suede cowboy boots. (’Twas the woman, not the dog, who wore the purple suede cowboy boots. As written, though, it sounds as though ’twas, in fact, the dog.)
We saw several monkeys on vacation in Mexico. (The monkeys weren’t the ones vacationing.)
I glimpsed a rat sorting the recyclable materials. (The rat wasn’t the one sorting the recyclable materials.)
Tom comes across a turtle on his way home from spending four years in prison. (An incarcerated turtle? What on earth did it do to get four years in prison?)
Pygmies hunted elephants armed with spears. (The elephants are not the ones armed with spears.)
As we’ve mentioned before, a big part of our job is to focus on an author’s intent and try to assist in selecting the most appropriate words to convey an intended message. Please check out our June 2016 article “What We Mean and What We Say” for more about this. By working with writers to increase their work’s clarity, editors can help writers to present themselves and most accurately impart their message, as we explained in our July 2014 article “Can’t You Just Run a Spell Check?”
Behold! The latest and greatest issue of Quill & Ink is now available! In this issue, we talk about our most recent travels and the people and creatures we’ve encountered there. There is plenty to read and enjoy, and also check out our new layout and let us know what you think!
(Please click the image to view the latest issue.)
Please enjoy, and drop us a line with any questions, comments, or suggestions!
If you are so inclined to celebrate, perhaps you may consider borrowing traditions from societies around our planet that have welcomed the lengthening days over many thousands of years. Forgive grudges, as did folks in ancient Rome, share food with others, as in the Polish tradition, or create your own way to celebrate the occasion. Light candles, invite loved ones to share a special meal or pause to remember those you cannot be with, volunteer, recommit to a goal or an ideal … or simply feel joyful that there will be more daylight tomorrow than there is today.
Though we all essentially experience the solstice at the same time, the ways we choose to acknowledge it can be entirely individualistic!
On a somewhat related note, when we sold our house in Vermont and embarked on this new adventure, we also sold or donated approximately 95 percent of our possessions—including our holiday decorations. Luckily, living at the sea, we do not feel we are lacking in joyful surroundings.
Wishing you all peace and contentment and the very happiest of holidays!
Among our happy discoveries as part of this grand exploration is that a wealth of hidden and not-so-hidden gems can be found in some of the most unexpected places. Such is the case with the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in the towns of Derby Line, Vermont (in the United States, approximate population: 629) and Stanstead, Québec (in Canada, approximate population: 2,800), which we explored in September before we moved to Maine.
In many ways, it is unsurprising that this public space was created and deliberately placed on the international border, located at both 93 Caswell Avenue on the United States side and 1 rue Church on the Canadian side. This is currently the only library in the world that exists and operates in two countries at once.
This library and opera house—as well as several other buildings in this community through which the international border runs—is a fascinating curiosity, and likewise, so are the towns themselves. The border runs right through the center of what has been for centuries considered one happy, international community. Until fairly recently, residents—including those who lived on the three streets that cross the border—came and went more or less as they pleased with only the slightest of formality. After all, the two sides share a drinking water and wastewater system, and their fire departments frequently collaborate in property- and lifesaving efforts. Babies born to Stanstead families are often born in the United States since it offers the closest hospital. Residents of both countries team up for curling. It wasn’t that long ago that the residents—many of whom are linked by intermarriage and dual citizenship—shared schools, places of worship, physicians, and more, and they could just nod and wave at the border patrol agents when crossing back and forth because the community is small and just about everyone knew everyone else.
Sadly, though, the world in which we live now is creating significant problems for the townspeople who for so long all but existed without concern for the border. Local resistance to the increasing security in recent years has included, among other things, maintaining an international border marked with a charming row of potted flowers. But this lovely floral border is now the only one left; all the rest are locked down with iron gates, and all of them—even the flowerpot crossing—are equipped with cameras and weight sensors. Border patrol agents are everywhere—on foot, in SUVs, at border stations; in fact, there are more than four times the number of agents in this tiny community than there were in the late 1990s.
One of the streets that crosses the border is called Canusa Avenue—clever!—where the border runs essentially right down the middle of the street, east to west. Drivers on the north side of the line, heading west, are in Canada, and those driving east are in the United States. Because the houses lining the south side of it are in the United States, under the new rules, whenever Canusa Avenue’s American residents pull out of their driveways, they have technically left the United States and therefore must report to a border station! (For a more in-depth description of the Canusa Avenue situation, check out this article.)
Even a simple game of toss-and-catch can become a complicated matter: people playing on either side of the line—which could easily happen in neighborhoods bisected by the border—would have to go to customs to declare the ball every time they caught it. There are places where neighbors are separated only by a grassy lawn, but to visit one another, they must first report to customs.
When standing on a street on the US side of the line and looking at the next street over, one can observe that all the street signs are written in French. This is very different from many other borders, particularly in this part of the country; in most of those cases, one is often driving through rolling farmland or along an interstate from which the imposing border crossing stations are clearly visible upon approach. In these towns, one can simply unknowingly wander across a bit of lawn, cross a sidewalk on the wrong side, or even just enter a building from one side and exit from the other and end up accidentally border-jumping—thus becoming subject to detention and/or fines courtesy of the ubiquitous customs agents—so one must be very attentive and vigilant. Aimless, curious meandering around this pretty little area to see what might be at the end of one charming street or another is not at all recommended.
Despite some of the logistical concerns and extra qui vive involved with visiting this unique community, it is well worth the visit, and we indeed recommend it. (Just please be careful where you park and where you walk!) Spend an afternoon cozied up with a good book in front of a fireplace within the library or take in a performance in the opera house. You’ll have an intriguing story to share with others later!
Chris and Sara have both dreamed of moving to the coast of Maine since they were children.
In 2002, when they found themselves living in different states and working in corporate careers, Sara sent Chris this sheep piggy bank with Relocation to Maine Fund affixed to its front. Though it was intended as a playful gesture, Sheep P. Bank has traveled with them to their various residences and has prompted more than a few wistful conversations about making a life in such a beautiful place.
And now here they are!
Stay tuned for future pieces about life here on this majestic rocky outpost.
In coordinating the logistics for our very happily anticipated move to the sea, we have often felt as industrious as these glorious creatures, seen here in this absolutely gorgeous location in northeastern Vermont.
Beavers are fascinating animals with a surprising skill set and the ability to dramatically transform landscapes for the benefit of a vast array of creatures. Enjoy this short video compilation of footage we recently shot of them from our canoe-enabled vantage point:
Stay tuned for an upcoming feature in our next edition of Quill & Ink to learn more about beavers!
We, of course, work with punctuation all day, every day, and we’ve laughed quite hard over countless linguistic mishaps resulting from the incorrect use or even the omission of necessary of punctuation. (Please feel free to check out past Quill & Ink articles discussing the intricacies of punctuation, including this one from 2016, this one from 2015, and this one from 2014.) Because we of course we would never underscore any examples of this from our own authors, consider taking a moment to reflect on these amusing examples already published for public consumption:
While admittedly sources vary somewhat on the official number of punctuation marks in the English language, the following beautifully presented graphic is pretty representative of what we see in a typical day.