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January 17, 2012

At the paragraph factory tonight we will be covering the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. Never mind that the winner of these caucuses does not necessarily do well in subsequent contests, or that no actual delegates to the Republican National Convention are selected, or that Iowans—no disrespect—are not particularly representative of the electorate. This hypertrophic straw poll is the first formal contest of the election year, and so it must be important.

At The New Yorker George Packer observes sardonically, “Political journalism—unlike war reporting—long ago stopped being about what is true or important. Sometime in the nineteen-eighties, reporters began covering politics like sports and entertainment.” And further: “Once demagogy and falsehoods become routine, there isn’t much for the political journalist to do except handicap the race and report on the candidate’s mood.”

First things first: Philip B. Corbett of The New York Times reminds us: “When a participle construction, appositive or other modifying phrase starts a sentence, the person or thing being described should generally come directly after the modifying phrase.” That’s the prescription. For the symptoms of the disease of misplaced modifiers, have a look at his wealth of examples from The Times.

Operators are standing by: You still have time to sign up for my audio conference for Copyediting on “Charged Language: Dealing with the Unspeakable in Copy.” That’s a week from Thursday, January 12, 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Eastern time.

On the air: I will be talking about the definite article and other subjects later today with Sheilah Kast of WYPR’s Maryland Morning, for a segment to be broadcast tomorrow morning, beginning at 9:00 a.m. That’s on WYPR-FM, 88.1. A recording of the interview will be posted later tomorrow at the show’s website.

Rock-breaker: Your word of the week is saxifrage.

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