Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This just in: Yahoo News (or maybe AFP) prefers dangling participles over passive voice

I was startled today by the following link to a Yahoo News article on the Drudge Report website:

Fleeing conflict, elephants help Myanmar villagers to safety

You do see the problem, don't you? The headline has the elephants doing the fleeing instead of the Myanmar villagers.

I'm not making this up. In fact, here's the complete article, along with an AFP (Agence France-Presse) photo of one of the elephants, from which one of the villagers appears to be, well, dangling.

I thought immediately of an amusing old collection of grammar rules in which each rule violated itself. Specifically, I thought of my favorite, "When dangling, watch your participles."

What should the headline writer (I do not call him or her a journalist) have written instead?

There are a couple of possibilities. One is to write in passive voice:

Fleeing conflict, Myanmar villagers are helped to safety by elephants

However, if you are unalterably opposed to using passive voice (and I feel it in my bones that many of you are), you could simply move the misplaced modifier to its proper position in the headline:

Elephants help Myanmar villagers fleeing conflict to safety

I now close this fascinating post with a famous "droodle" by Roger Price called Four Elephants Examining an Orange:


The jury is still out on whether the orange is fleeing anything.

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