Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Worst Paragraph Ever Published

Normally, I focus on political activity here, but this morning’s Los Angeles Times sports section contained a paragraph so linguistically pathetic that I had to show it to those of you unable to bask in its ineptitude.
It appeared as the fourth paragraph in the primary article, written by Mike Bresnahan, which dealt with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team which, when the season started, was considered to be in major trouble, with a star who was demanding a trade, and unlikely to make the playoffs. Last night the Lakers, culminating a great season, clinched the best record in the Western Conference, giving them home court advantage throughout the Conference playoffs, which figure to be extremely contentious. For those of you who value the English language, I suggest that at this moment you make sure you are seated comfortably, are not eating, and are not handling sharp objects. I now quote:

“It was only a step, to be sure, but it was tangible and touchable in a season that started with so little of either.”

I know, it is actually just a sentence, but it was set off as a paragraph so that the reader could appreciate it in its aesthetic solitude, undiminished by any following comments. Let’s look at it in more detail. Yes, the step of clinching the best record was both tangible and touchable. Not just tangible, mind you, but also touchable. The first definition of tangible at dictionary.com is “capable of being touched; discernible by the touch; material or substantial.” So the best we can say for this is that it is ridiculously redundant. That is what jumped out at me when I first read it. Of course, that is merely the beginning of the illiteracy here, since the step of winning the conference is not remotely touchable. Now there are definitions of tangible which are figurative, referring to the reality of something rather than its corporeal nature, so we can only guess that Bresnahan decided to add touchable just to make sure it made no sense.
Speaking of making no sense, how about that last phrase? Yes, it was a season which “started with so little of either” – say what? The only words that could refer to are “tangible and touchable”. Yes, Bresnahan is telling us the NBA season started with very little tangibility (and we also couldn’t touch it.). I’ve searched for a definition of tangible under which that might make some kind of sense. The best I could come up with was “definite; not vague or elusive: no tangible grounds for suspicion.” So I guess he’s saying the Lakers season prospects were deemed to be vague and indefinite, but I have to work to get to that one and we’re still left with “so little of either”, which, one must assume, refers to our limited ability to touch the Lakers season back in November. This was no doubt a tragedy of sorts for those who enjoy fondling the schedule of sports teams.
Mr. Bresnahan is a professional writer – we know this because he gets paid for it – and his editor, also paid, is a professional editor. That two men in the profession of writing could both write and fail to correct this is mind-boggling.

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