Monday, November 19, 2007

Make your language clear!

Maybe I'm picking at nits because of a sense of outrage and grief at news I received this morning, but do you find problems in the following sentence, as reported by the Arizona Republic, Arizona's newspaper of record?

"A 26-year-old LDS church in Mesa nearly burned to the ground early Monday morning, fire officials said."

To me, the wording connotes that major damage was somehow averted, that there was a close call, but the peril of devastating fire was avoided.

What happened is that the building indeed did burn, and is a total loss, with exterior walls still partially standing. Perhaps this sentence more clearly reflects what happened:

A 26-year-old LDS church in Mesa burned nearly to the ground early Monday morning, fire officials said.

I know, I know, I've overdoing it. I have attended meetings and events in the building in question several times over the last 25 years, so I'm probably shell-shocked. I'm taking my rage out on a pair of reporters who misplaced a modifier.

But, my question to you, gentle readers, is this: which sentence more accurately tells the story, the original or the one I altered?


  1. I agree with your sentence, Marsha. So sorry to hear about the burning. What an utterly senseless thing for someone to do. Such a waste.

  2. I have to agree with your observations on syntax. The first sentence does make it sound like disaster was averted, while the second clearly shows that the disaster was nearly total.

    We had a very similar situation here in Weatherford, Texas in February. Our 20+ year old Stake Center "burned nearly to the ground" in an early morning fire.

    The fire was found to have been caused by a faulty light switch that had been installed during the original construction.

    Perhaps the building in Mesa had a switch that came from the same batch.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Anne and Don.

    I've been busy updating my website, so I haven't checked the news to see if a cause for the fire has been found yet.


I welcome your comments.

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