Wooden Legs and Mustaches

If you’ve ever watched Mary Poppins, you’ve received fair warning about dangling modifiers.

Been a few years since you’ve seen it? Let me remind you of its grammatical humor.

Bert the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke) tells Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn), “Speakin’ o’ names, I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.”

“What’s the name of his other leg?” Uncle Albert says.

A classic case of a dangling modifier, when a word or phrase wanders too far from the term it should stay close to—and attaches itself to a stranger—with appropriate results.

Until recently, in all my years of editing, I’d never caught a full-grown wild one, a dangler the likes of a leg named Smith. Sure, I’d caught my share of textbook examples:

● Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.
● Walking down Main Street, the trees were beautiful.
● I saw the trailer peeking through the window.

Mildly amusing and in need of rewriting, but nothing worthy of Bert and Uncle Albert. Finally, a few months ago, editing a fiction manuscript, I caught a whopper:

A receptionist escorted them to the office of the canal security director, a poised man with a thin mustache named Madrid.

What were his sideburns named?

Andy Scheer, editor-in-chief for the Christian Writers Guild, also serves as a freelance book editor and an agent with Hartline Literary. A frequent speaker at writers conferences, he served for twelve years as managing editor for Moody magazine.

Image credit: dosecreative / 123RF Stock Photo


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