FROM TODAY’S SEATTLE TIMES (July 21, 2003) comes a piece titled “Israel OKs freeing some prisoners to restart talks” (page A4). Got that: Palestinian prisoners restart talks with Palestinian representatives. Now, prepositional phrases (like “to restart talks”) work best when they are placed as close as possible to the word that they are modifying.
They work best when placed immediately after the word being modified, like an appendage. We therefore tend to assume that a prepositional phrase IS, in fact, modifying the word that it follows or to which it is closest.
In this case, this headline tells us in the literal sense that Israel is freeing some prisoners—in this case, Palestinians—so that those prisoners can restart talks, apparently with other Palestinians.
Needless to say, that is NOT what the editor intended! He should have written, “In order to restart talks with Palestine, Israel OKs freeing some prisoners.”
HEADER IMAGE: “Thousands of Facebook users have changed their profile pictures in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners, using the following image by Palestinian graphic artist Hafez Omar. Variations on the image (seen below) are also being widely used and thousands have adopted these images. They are below for you to download and add to your own profile.” (Samidoun)
William Strunk Jr’s original edition of The Elements Of Style (1919) was all of fifty-three pages long. In 1959, it was revised and expanded by one of his students, the famous children’s book author E.B. White. It is one of the best-selling and most influential grammar and punctuation books ever published. I have used the authors’ names for one of the categories of this site: Strunkandwhiten It! For more information, refer to “On William Strunk and Elements of Style.”