by Gene Owens
Bubba received a stinging reminder that the folks in Swampscum are bad about misplacing their modifying phrases. Bubba is beginning to believe this is the most common error in writing.
A Register reader whose name got clipped from the e-mail pointed out a sentence from a photo caption in the Swampscum Daily Ooze: “Theodore Burnsting of Swampscum checks a wooden box that he built to raise honeybees in his garage.”
“I only hope that he is not raising ‘killer’ bees in his garage, or perhaps this is his substitute for a guard dog,” wrote Bubba’s correspondent. “Whatever, I will stay away from his garage.”
Burnsting can render his garage safe simply by moving the modifying phrase, “in his garage,” to its proper position.
Bubba assumes that Theodore built the box in his garage and plans to raise honeybees somewhere outside. In that case “in his garage” should modify the verb “built.” But the Daily Ooze writer placed it next to the infinitive “to raise.” That makes it appear that Theodore planned to raise killer bees in his garage.
Bubba’s solution: “Theodore Burnsting checks a wooden box that he built in his garage to raise honeybees.”
“Uncle Hadacol built a bee hive next to his henhouse to keep thieves away,” said Homer.
“Did it work?” asked Bubba.
“The bees never showed up,” said Homer, “but a bunch of black wasps built a nest over the doorway, and they’re doing a pretty good job of guarding it.”
“Why didn’t he put Ol’ Elmer’s doghouse next to the henhouse and let him keep the thieves away?” asked Bubba.
“Elmer is the main thief,” said Homer.
Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.
As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers last year named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.
He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He recently went into semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.
In addition to Greasepit Grammar, he writes a column of commentary and humor from a Southern perspective. The column has been a fixture for ten years in the Greensboro, N. C., News-Record and in the Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News.
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