Troubles hurt the most when they prove self-inflicted.
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
Destructive criticism is one of life's great pleasures, and a seriously undervalued one. As we grow up, we are often brainwashed into thinking that the only reputable type of criticism is 'constructive'-that is, essentially admiring but containing some suggestions as to how what has been done could be made even better. But when something is awful, why not say so? Children do; maybe that's why they have so much fun, and embarrass po-faced adults so often! So let's take an enjoyable look at four passages that turned out rather less well than their authors intended.
1. In this set of instructions the writer gets into a hilarious mess through not thinking clearly or 'hearing' the words.
When feeding the baby with a bottle, it must be held at a steep angle with the bottom tilted up and the neck held firmly down, otherwise an air-bubble will form in the neck. Do not allow the baby to drink all the feed at once, but give it a rest sometimes so that it can get the wind up. Finally, when the baby has finished the bottle, place it under the tap straight away, or allow it to soak in a mild solution of Milton, to prevent infection. If the baby does not thrive on fresh milk it should be powdered or boiled.
A formal analysis of why this goes wrong would show that the loose use of pronouns sets up a farcical ambiguity. But a simpler explanation is that the writer is lazy. There has been no attempt to imagine how the words will 'sound', how they will affect the reader. Given that the passage is instructional, presumably intended to assist an inexperienced parent, that is a severe fault.
Rewrite the above passage so that it makes dear and uncomical sense. You'll find my suggested version in the Appendix.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Write in Style: A Guide to Good English. Contributors: Richard Palmer - Author. Publisher: Spon Press. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 3.
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