Some people collect vinyl records, some collect luggage tags, some collect ceramic bluebirds. I worked with a sub-editor years ago who used to collect danglers, emailing his latest find via the company message system around his colleagues in the office. Partly, no doubt, he was mindful that redundancies were coming in regular waves, and he might breast those waves by reminding his bosses how regularly he saved the writers and the newspaper from publishing scrambled sentences. Mainly, though, he was providing harmless entertainment for his colleagues. All of us enjoyed a dangler — but we also took care to ensure that danglers didn’t make it into print.
They do now — all the time — in newspapers, in magazines and in reports, scripted and unscripted, on television and radio. There are more and more of them in books, too. Rare is the new book I’m sent that isn’t spattered with danglers, not just in proof but in the finished copy. A dangler, in case you need reminding, is a word or phrase that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up describing the wrong thing. I’m amassing quite a collection myself. Here are a few I’ve come across in the past few days:
Lying on my back, the projector beam of the moonlight rattled into life on the canvas of the sail…
Without formal education, equality was an idea that I suspected had been put into my head and not theirs…
Making our way further from land, a longtail boat… came into sight.
With scurrying steps, his pale skin jumped out from where he kept safe distance…
All of those came from one 200-page book.
Many of the new titles I read, and most of those I review, are travel books. If a writer can’t guide me to the end of a sentence without getting lost, why should I stick with him or her to the end of a journey?
A while ago, I reviewed a book that I’d enjoyed enormously apart from its profusion of danglers. The first two or three were funny, but a dangler in every chapter got irritating. I cited a few. After the review appeared, the writer emailed asking if I could direct him to the others I had spotted so that he could put them right for the paperback edition. He had a blind spot for danglers, he admitted. But why didn’t his editor and the proof-reader catch them? Danglers by the dozen might be excusable in unedited blogs, but they shouldn’t be acceptable in published books.
Mind you, if none of them got through, we’d be denied entertainment like this, my dangler of the past year:
Now 80 years old and straight-backed with a well-preened moustache, his manicured hands still looked strong enough to throttle a goat.