Do you have a favorite grammatical mistake? Mine’s (if you couldn't tell from the title) the dangling modifier. I love that sucker. I mean, it’s no secret that today’s spoken and written English is littered with grammatical errors, ranging in annoyance level from the whatever (“get a free gift with your purchase!”) to the slightly nose-wrinkling (“this happens to me everyday”) to the I’m-going-to-explode (“groups may have no less than three members”), but dangling modifiers are the only mistakes that make me smile a solid 90% of the time I see them. If you’re unfamiliar with this golden slip-up, it’s basically when the writer or speaker of a sentence modifies part of the sentence without making it clear exactly which part of the sentence he or she is modifying. This has a tendency to manifest itself in hilarious ways, allowing for weird mental images and odd circumstances that I seriously enjoy. Consider, for example, the classic dangler that gets used as an example in classrooms around the world: “burnt to a crisp, he couldn’t eat the toast.” What makes it funny is that you obviously know what the culprit of the dangling modifier is trying to say, that the dude in question didn’t have the ability to eat a piece of toast that was so badly overcooked, but because of the formation of the sentence, it’s plausible that the “burnt to a crisp” is describing the man instead of the toast, which is quite funny indeed.
The burning of the toast is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dangling modifiers, though. The internet is loaded with silly little screw-ups, like “freshly painted, Jim left the room to dry,” “he wore a straw hat on his head, which was obviously too small,” and “I saw the dead dog driving down the interstate.” See what I mean? These things are amazing. You can do all sorts of crazy things with them to make them even funnier, like for example throwing a little passive voice in there, as if the dangling modifier didn’t make things confusing enough: “driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed.” Yea, it’s an awful mistake, but isn’t it also kind of endearing?
Anyway, is this blog post supposed to be getting at something? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Perhaps consider this: while the dangling modifier is technically an error and should probably be avoided while writing anything that’s even marginally professional, I like to think of it as a reminder that sometimes mistakes can be colorful and fun (unless you’re using “less” when you should be using “fewer.” That is neither colorful nor fun.). Life is often full of crap, but being able to laugh at that crap is a pretty good skill to have, in my opinion. And plus, now you’ve got something to look for and giggle at when you’re proofreading essays or having a conversation or watching TV! At least you know that’s what I’ll be doing between now and when school starts, because, though ill-formed and often in bad taste, I’m always cracked up by dangling modifiers.