Editing for Liberty #11: (Be)cause & Effect

Coin of Emperor Basil I (reigned 867–886 AD)

Can You Spot the Error?

  1. At some point, Basil also began sleeping with his wife, since she bore him two more sons after Michael’s death.
  2. Under market conditions, such dismal performance would unquestionably have a substantive impact on a company’s bottom line; after all, if an airline agreed to bring its passengers to Maui but instead brought them to Midland, a rational observer would expect the business to flounder soon after.
  3. The elimination of such antiproperty-rights laws will make people more self-reliant and thus less dependent on government.

Read on for the solutions!

(Be)cause & Effect

Last week, we talked about the confusion of since vs. because. If we take the word “since” in sentence #1 to refer to time, then the sentence claims that Byzantine emperor Basil I started sleeping with his wife after she bore him two more sons.

But what if we assume that “since” means “because”?

At some point, Basil also began sleeping with his wife, because she bore him two more sons after Michael’s death.

Even with that change, the sentence still claims the wrong order for cause and effect.

Clearly, what the author meant was something like this: We can conclude X because of evidence Y.

We can conclude that, at some point, Basil also began sleeping with his wife, because she bore him two more sons after Michael’s death.

As with misplaced modifiers, it is easy to miss this sort of error because we usually know what the author means. And it’s certainly an important part of our job to know what the author meant. But it is also part of our job to read what the author wrote rather than what she meant.

(I found that sentence in Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Medieval World, p. 448. The history is a fascinating one, Byzantine in both that word’s meanings: the story of Emperor Michael III and his treacherous co-conspirator and successor.)

Flounder vs. Founder

Here’s a usage note from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

It is easy to confuse the words founder and flounder, not only because they sound similar but also because the contexts in which they are used overlap. Founder means, in its general and extended use, “fail or come to nothing, sink out of sight” (the scheme foundered because of lack of organizational backing). Flounder, on the other hand, means “struggle, move clumsily, be in a state of confusion” (new recruits floundering about in their first week).

Sentence #2 should read

Under market conditions, such dismal performance would unquestionably have a substantive impact on a company’s bottom line; after all, if an airline agreed to bring its passengers to Maui but instead brought them to Midland, a rational observer would expect the business to founder soon after.

Anti-what-now?

As we know from Chicago 7.85, “Compounds formed with prefixes are normally closed.” But Chicago 7.85 also tells us, “A hyphen should appear … before a compound term, such as non-self-sustaining, pre–Vietnam War (before an open compound, an en dash is used; see 6.80).”

So someone who is opposed to property is antiproperty. But an intellectual who is opposed to property rights is anti–property rights (anti and then an en dash if the adjective follows the noun being modified) or an anti-property-rights intellectual (two hyphens if the compound modifier appears before the noun).

Sentence #3 should therefore be

The elimination of such antiproperty-rights laws will make people more self-reliant and thus less dependent on government.

Name That Reference

Just for Fun


Is there something you’d like to contribute or see covered in Editing for Liberty? Post a comment! Cartoons, quips, and contributions to “Spot the Error” and “Name That Reference” are especially welcome.

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