When I said these Monday posts would most often be short, I meant it.
This week’s edition of “Why You Should Hire an Editor” is dedicated to Perez Hilton. His entertainment site is a blog with a huge following more than what I’d consider professional journalism. Some would argue the grammatical standards should be relaxed for blogging.
None of that means we can’t laugh at the headline just the same.
Poor Patrick Stewart, a wonderful gentleman by every account I’ve ever read, is the unfortunate victim of a misplaced modifier.
A misplaced modifier is a descriptive word/phrase/clause awkwardly inserted into a sentence in a way that makes it unclear what it is describing. In this particular case, the clause “with a life threatening illness” is meant to describe the fan. However, you could also interpret the headline to mean that Patrick Stewart surprised the fan by presenting a life threatening illness. Even in that case, is Stewart suffering from the illness (“Surprise, I have cooties!”) or is Stewart gifting the illness to the fan (“Surprise, YOU have cooties!”)?
Learn from Perez Hilton’s mistake: Make sure your words are placed in a way that they mean what they should.
(I could also make a compelling argument that “life threatening” should be hyphenated. But that’s another lesson for another time.)