Do you get ideas about language or writing when you're not expecting them? I do, so I'm happy to have a chance to share them.
On a recent Saturday night, I watched Disney's "Mary Poppins" on Channel 7 (ABC-TV). I sang along much of the time. Being "of a certain age," I haven't seen the movie as often as kids who grew up with videos, but my sister and I had several records of the songs.
Thus, the music was familiar, but the script surprised me. A repeated -- and important -- joke was a short conversation:
"I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith."
"Really? What's the name of his other leg?"
That's silly on the surface, but it's also a good way to check your writing for misplaced phrases. The sentence would be clearer (and, well, more Serious) as
"I know a man named Smith with a wooden leg."
If you're not sure whether your "with" is in the right place, try moving it as I just moved the "wooden leg."
Don't fall into thinking of "a person with a feature" as one unit if you want to add something more about him. For example, I have a postcard with four Parisian landmarks on my refrigerator. Now you're thinking I have a huge refrigerator, right? And is it clear that the "fridge" is still in Chicago?
I thought not. On my refrigerator in Chicago is a postcard with four Parisian landmarks on it.
So slow down, look at subordinate clauses and phrases, and you'll avoid leaving readers or listeners asking "What's the name of his other leg?"
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.
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