Problem pronouns A story is told of Croesus, a king of legendary riches and wealth, who sought the advice of the Oracle of Delphi before attempting an invasion of Persia. “If you cross the river Halys, you will destroy a mighty empire,” was the Oracle’s take on his request.
Emboldened by this seemingly positive response, Croesus attacked Persia, only to be taken prisoner and have his army defeated – making it clear that the powerful empire he was about to destroy was his own.
Unlike that grave consequence of the Oracle’s ambiguity, modernday goofs with misplaced pronouns simply provoke consternation and mirth. Some continue to illustrate last week’s mangled modifier theme as well.
An advertisement shows a woman wielding a vacuum cleaner, with the caption, “Don’t kill your wife with work – let electricity do it!” More gems: “I saw a policeman with his dog in the pub; he was scratching his ear with his foot.”
“He was at death’s door, but the doctor pulled him through.”
This next notice isn’t quite a misplaced pronoun, but illustrates how a missing hyphen can render a church notice anything but ecclesiastical:
“The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind and they may be seen in the church basement every Friday.”
Surgeon’s note: “The patient’s bladder was then emptied and sent to the postoperative recovery room in stable condition.”
A pronoun may apply to humans and animals alike, with occasional confused results, as in this news item:
“After Governor Baldwin watched the lion perform, he was taken to Main Street and fed 25 pounds of raw meat in front of the Cross Keys Theater.”
Or there may be confusion arising from the convention of a woman and ship both being a ‘she’:
“When Lady Caruthers smashed the traditional big bottle of bubbly against the hull of the giant oil tanker, she moved down the slipway, gained speed, rocketed into the water with a gigantic spray, and continued unchecked towards Prince’s Islands.”
And finally, a narcissistic studio announcement: “Andie MacDowell, until now a leading model, makes her screen debut as the American ward of Lord Greystoke who falls in love with Tarzan.”