Thursday, October 18, 2007

Collins Overuses Modifiers and Passive Verbs

Op-Ed Columnist

None Dare Call It Child Care


Published: October 18, 2007

I too heard Chris Matthews’ comment on men’s making enough money for their wives to stay home. His wife, Kathleen, works full-time as a TV anchor, I think. She could stay home on his salary, but she doesn’t.

Many women work for professional satisfaction just as men do. But that circumstance makes conservative, sexist thinkers count these women selfish, bad mothers despite women’s working in record numbers. To get the grudging approval from conservatives to work, women must lie and say they work from economic necessity.

I have seen several op-edit columns by Ms. Collins recently. I hope this does not mean Dauphin Sulzberger has demoted her from the flossy editorial slot to which he promoted her so as to ballyhoo his soi-disant egalitarianism. The masthead blows that claim.

I appealed to Mr. Sulzberger when he appeared at Poynter last year to hire other women to join Dowd on the op-ed page. Safire’s job had just gone vacant. Sulzberger said with a sexist smirk that he had appointed that white guy whose name I have forgotten but who has since disappeared off the op-ed page. When I asked Sulzberger as a shareholder how we women could get more women on the op-ed page, he said with his signature wit manqué that we should “beg.” I hear he demanded that his wife quit her writing job when he ascended to publishership.

The next time Le Sulzberger comes to town, I will not ask him to expand women’s role at the NYT. I will box his ears as a lost cause. I sold my stock in protest of his ignorant sexism and lost half its value. Blogs signal the death knell of print press. Sulzberger will lose his dauphinship. I won’t cry.

Ms. Collins is a solid meat-and-potatoes writer who has almost conquered punctuation—more than most of her colleagues can say. Her problem is style: she overuses passive verbs and modifiers that Strunk & White abjures.

It was one of the very first issues to be swift-boated by social conservatives.

Edit: As one of their first issues, social conservatives swift-boated child care.

In 1971, Congress actually passed a comprehensive child care bill that was vetoed by Richard Nixon.

“Actually” and “truly” are the two most over-used gaseous adverbs. Writers should dump them.

Edit: “Richard Nixon vetoed a Congressional Child Care bill in 1971.”

The next time the bill came up, members were flooded with mail accusing them of being anti-family communists who wanted to let kids sue their parents if they were forced to go to church.

Edit: Voters flooded Congress with mail the next time the bill came up accusing them of being anti-family communists who would let kids sue parents for forcing them to go to church.

Even for them, the waiting lists tend to be ridiculously long. In many states, once the woman actually gets a job, she loses the day care.

A writer should avoid adverbs, but here I would defy Strunk & White and keep “ridiculously” to emphasize the point, “Actually” must go, however.

Middle-class families get zip, even though a decent private child care program costs $12,000 a year in some parts of the country.

The trailing adverbial clause is restrictive; it gets no comma before it. Adverbs in the end position conform to normal syntax: subject-verb-adverb. If the writer moves the adverb to the middle or beginning of the sentence, adverbial modifiers get commas although still restrictive because they disturb normal syntax.

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, or Naccrra, (this is an area replete with extraordinary people organized into groups with impossible names) says that in some states the average annual price of care was larger than the entire median income of a single parent with two children.

The comma after “Naccrra” goes after the close of the interpolated parenthetical material.

On Tuesday, she gave a major speech on working mothers in New Hampshire, with stories about her struggles when Chelsea was a baby, a grab-bag of Clintonian mini-ideas (encourage telecommuting, give awards to family-friendly businesses) and a middle-sized proposal to expand family leave.

The comma after “Hampshire” is redundant: it cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. This 43-word sentence should split and start a new sentence after “baby’: “These were a grab-bag….”

Clinton most certainly gets it, but she wasn’t prepared to get any closer to the problems of working parents than a plan to help them stay home from work.

“Most certainly” is a cliché redundant modifier that must go.


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