From Name:
From Email:
To Name:
To Email:

Optional Message:


DR. ENGLISH: Dealing with Ambiguity

from GBA

Ambiguity is the bane of writing that you need to have understood in exactly the way you want it understood. In many cases, the ambiguity arises from the order of the words in a sentence. Consider the phrasing that inspired this column, seen on the label of a package of wood destined for fireplace use:
CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65 WARNING
All wood, including this wood, produces a chemical or chemicals which are known by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm when burning.

Unfortunately, the wording is such that one could think, "Thank you, California. I will not attempt a reproductive act while I'm on fire." How to remove the ambiguity? Easy, and it's something you can do with your own writing: Just rearrange…
CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65 WARNING IMPROVED
When burning, all wood, including this wood, produces a chemical or chemicals which are known by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.

Of course, because the "all" of "all wood" means no exceptions, "including this wood," is redundant and unnecessary. That gets us to:
CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65 WARNING IMPROVED MORE
When burning, all wood produces a chemical or chemicals which are known by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. more


Powered by MultiBriefs
7701 Las Colinas Blvd., Ste. 800, Irving, TX 75063