Although I know they are a time-suck, slideshows with intriguing titles or photos often lure me in. The most recent to attract my attention was about “freaky coincidences.”
Because the format was the kind that requires two clicks for each slide–one for the photo and one for the caption–I was ready to stop after the second slide, but the first sentence of the second caption prompted me to continue:
A man saved the same baby’s life twice on accident.
Always on the lookout for material, I felt I had found a possible source of nonstandard English, so I kept going.
I was not disappointed.
If the slideshow was created by a non-native English speaker for personal amusement, the numerous errors are understandable. If the captions are the work of a professional writer whose native language is English, they reflect a serious lack of revision.
The show’s 14 slides yield 16 examples of nonstandard usage and punctuation. I won’t comment on punctuation.
1. A man saved the same baby’s life twice on accident.
Although often heard, “on accident” is unidiomatic. The standard expression is “by accident”: “A man saved the same baby’s life twice by accident.”
2. In 1930, a baby fell out of a window and Joseph Figlock broke the land.
The writer is thinking of the baby’s landing. “Broke the landing” would do the job, but “broke the baby’s fall” would be better.
3. In 1858, a man was shot dead while playing poker as an act of vengeance.
Correcting this sentence requires rearranging phrases and changing as to in. The man was not “playing poker as an act of vengeance.” He was “shot as an act of vengeance.” Why the man was shot is not as important as the fact that he was shot: “In 1858, a man playing poker was shot dead in an act of vengeance.” Changing as to in subordinates the reason for the shooting to the act of shooting.
Context for the next item: The man who was shot left $600 on the table. Another man appropriated the $600 and continued playing, increasing the amount to $2,200.
4. When the cops heard word of this [the fact that the dead man’s winnings had been used by a subsequent gambler] they demanded the $600 was given to the next of kin to the deceased.
This sentence requires editing in segments.
i. When the cops heard word of this
The idiom is “to have word of something.” For example, “I just had word that our team lost by one point.” Two ways to edit the original sentence:
“When the cops heard of this, they demanded…”
“When the cops learned of this, they demanded…”
ii. they demanded the $600
A that is needed to introduce the noun clause that follows demanded: “they demanded that the $600….” Without the that, the reader is led to believe that the police were demanding the $600 for themselves.
iii. demanded [that] the $600 was given to the next of kin
The noun clause requires a verb in the passive subjunctive: “The police demanded that the $600 be given to the next of kin.”
iv. given to the next of kin to the deceased
The expression “next of kin” means, “nearest relation,” usually of a deceased person. For that reason, the prepositional phrase modifying kin is overkill. If another phrase were needed to explain the relationship with kin, the preposition would be of, not to: “the next of kin of the deceased.”
5. In 2002, two identical twin brothers were killed on the same road, from two different accidents…
i. two identical twin brothers
The word twin conveys the meaning of two.
ii. killed…from two different accidents
People are killed in accidents. They die of injuries. They suffer from diseases. And, again, the two is unnecessary. We already know that there were two people involved in separate accidents.
6. Later, Ziegland went to go chop down the tree that the bullet was inside.
It’s enough to say, “went to chop down the tree.” The idea of “going” is contained in the verb went.
7. Coincidentally, their father was in the same hospital from recovering from a surgery.
This sentence is meant to convey the idea that the father just happened to be in the same hospital his two sons were brought to following their accidents. The phrase “from recovering” seems to mean, “because he was recovering.” The indefinite article is not needed before the word surgery, at least not in American English. Edited: “Coincidentally, their father was in the same hospital, recovering from surgery.” An American speaker would use an article with the word operation: “recovering from an operation.”
8. Robert E Lee himself showed up at the cottage to request it’s use as a formal place of surrender.
The contraction it’s stands for two words: it is. The context calls for the possessive adjective its. Edited: “Robert E Lee himself showed up at the cottage to request its use as a formal place of surrender.”
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