Hiding in Plain Sight

The Washington Post recently published an article about the 2011 Powerball scandal which involved a lottery official secretly buying what was later claimed to be a winning ticket.

This paragraph from the piece puzzled me at first:
Investigators never gave up on the curious case and, three years later, released surveillance footage of a hooded man buying the winning ticket in the hopes that someone would recognize him.
If he was hoping someone would identify him, why wear a hood?

It took three readings before I realized that the phrase “in the hopes that someone would recognize him” belonged earlier in the sentence, after the word “footage.” It was the investigators who were hoping someone would recognize him.

When you’re writing a long, complex sentence it’s easy to make this sort of mistake, known as a “dangling modifier.” After all, you know what you mean. Most of us find it difficult to spot problems of this kind in our own writing. It’s always a good idea to have someone else proofread your work before publishing it.

But in this case, whoever edited this piece at the Post missed the problem.

Dangling and misplaced modifiers are covered on p. 75.

No comments: