A Day in a Read State (9)

Through Good 360 and the Center’s cornerstone Nebraska Truckloads of Help program, Lincoln’s Center For People In Need receives thousands of book donations from participating non-profits and national companies alike, helping put free books in the homes and schools of low-income and high-need families throughout Nebraska.

These are the stories of the (stronger) sentences in some of those stories – and the principles deployed to justify hunting down and extirpating their (weaker) cousins.

photo (8)
Language Skills for Journalists by R. Thomas Berner (Houghton Mifflin, 1979.)

Thomas Berner is Professor Emeritus, Journalism at Penn State College of Communications. The Spectator, Berner’s blog, recently reposted a paper of his entitled “The Printing Press as an Agent of Preservation.”  is a thoughtful and worthwhile read for an audience interested in studying the social attitudes toward language and the effect of the printing press on intellectual life after the transformation of scribal culture in Europe.

Anyway, it’s 2016, print is dead, and imagined communities gather at the author’s wake.


From Language Skills for Journalists (1979), an altogether lucid and occasionally droll practitioner’s guide, here’s Berner tracing his pencil along the far horizons of language:


“All principal parts of regular verbs are formed the way you were shown earlier in this chapter. But we also have irregular verbs, irregular because they do not follow the normal pattern. Children just learning the language are the most common culprits in not recognizing irregular verbs. (“I falled down” is a phrase parents heart often from young children.) The children are imitating what appears to be a logical language pattern that really shifts helter-skelter; thus, there is nothing intuitive to guide them through the irregularities. Eventually, though, they learn them – or change them. The approximate 200 irregular verbs in our language may disappear someday. But because they haven’t yet, you have to know them or be able to recognize them…”

P. 140-141; emphasis mine

The late William Safire intuited the topography of an Employed Usagist’s Balaclava. He noted, from down in the valley, the height of certain hills he considered too high to die upon. The sneaked-snuck usage, for example, shows that English continues to prefer an unstable paradigm. Perhaps its the force of usage in such an orally (and visually) powerful culture that shatters convention like a lodestone – affinities reverse with each fracture in the material.

Modifiers once conjoined, are never repositioned.

Berner continues,


…It cannot be stressed enough that modifiers, be they single words, phrases or clauses, must be placed as close as possible – if not next to – to the word or phrase they modify. If they can’t be closely placed, rewrite the sentence. Here is a headline, its modification improperly placed:



No, the police aren’t using pipe bombs instead of revolvers, although that’s what the headline says. Actually, the people had the pipe bomb – or so the police say. Correctly modified, the headline would have said:



Right right, but go on…

Some editors , however, would forbid that headline because the prepositional phrase (with…bomb) is split over two lines – a taboo at some newspapers.

p. 142

 This taboo, then, as consequence of certain conditions of syntax ecology under print capitalism.

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