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Buck's English: Watch where you put your modifiers

Gene Owens: Watch where you put your modifiers
By Gene Owens, For The Oklahoman Published: March 6, 2014

Buff Skinner drove in to Curly’s Soonerco to inform Buck of the most brazen felony in Swayback’s history.

He pointed to the opening paragraph of a story in the Swayback Daily Kick: “Erwin Scofflaw, 32, made a blind plea in October to 14 counts of false preparation of exhibits as evidence, five counts of state computer crimes act violations and one count of felony in Sagebrush County District Court.”

“I can’t think of a worse place to commit a felony,” said Buff as he sat down on a seat ripped from a 1997 Chevy Citation.

Buck mentally convicted the writer of a common syntactical misdemeanor: poor placement of a modifying phrase.

The phrase “in Sagebrush County District Court” was tacked onto the end of a long sentence, immediately following the phrase “to commit a felony.” That makes it look as though he were making a plea to a felony committed in the courtroom. In fact, he had committed the felony elsewhere but made his plea in the courtroom.

Miss Prunella Pincenez, Buck’s eighth-grade English teacher, constantly urged her pupils to snuggle their modifiers as close as possible to the words or phrases they modified. She would have insisted on:

“In Sagebrush County District Court, Erwin Scofflaw made a blind plea in October to ... ” That way, Erwin is committing his crimes outside the courtroom and making his blind plea inside the courtroom.

“‘Booster’ Robinson was convicted of stealing in the same courtroom,” said Gopher. “He tried to pick the judge’s pocket.”

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