Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

The Dangling Phrase

02 Jan 2006

Well friends, we're finally here! I just opened my new curtain code-named '2006', and also a brand-new pair of woolen socks. (My old pair got rather smelly.)

In other news, I'm back at Waterloo! After a much-needed quick break at Vancouver for two weeks, I caught the plane on the auspicious day that is New Year's, flew to Toronto and took a car back to the University. It was a fun four and a half hour transit: I slept for two hours, made new resolutions for 10 minutes, drank a cup of coke for an hour, read John Grisham's The Broker for another hour and a quarter, and watched for the last five minutes (yet another) Waterloo guy play NFS Underground and lose pathetically. The air stewardesses were much more pleasing and less pugnacious than last time's. It was an altogether enjoyable flight, I'd say.

I have to admit that the last two posts here were rather dull and of little interest, if any, to the casual passerby. So I decided to write something more intriguing and literate, both of which themes I always take pleasure in. The result was a self-carved interview with one of my many fictitious protégés.


Sir, Rajesh Sir, what exactly is it that excites you the most?

The thing that excites me the most is a sentence that begins with the word 'that'. Double points if it has more than that 'that' in the same sentence.

Why is that sir, may I know?

It's because sentences that begin with 'that' often tend to have at least one dangling or misplaced modifier in them. Of course, more often than not, these dangling or misplaced modifiers arise inadvertently due to an error on the rookie writer's part, but in rare circumstances, commanding authors employ them to confuse the heck out of the reader. The excitement kicks in when we try to unravel the mystery as to whom the modifier actually belongs to, during the process of which we use handy tools like context and common sense.

Let's consider an example.

That it appears to you as outlandish that I amuse myself in science fiction is of deep interest to me.

This is one of my favorite examples because it doesn't contain a dangling modifier, but a whole whopping dangling phrase! That's Christmas two times a year for a reader well-versed with the tenets of literature. The phrase is of deep interest to me is unentertaining because we don't clearly know whether it applies to the fact that someone finds something outlandish or to the fact that I read fiction novels. Of course, one could use context and common sense to figure out that it quite obviously applies to the former, but it is in the process of discerning which is which is what's exciting.

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