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Missing Words And Wrong Sense!


William King

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Sometimes I think I am being either too pedantic or other people's way of speaking/writing English is just different to my own.

 

I have noticed in lots of different writing, by various authors, that words get left out. Those words being "the" and sometimes "a" I'm not giving examples, you've either noticed or you haven't. Currently I am reading the April Fool's stories and there it is again - missing words.

 

I just wonder, do people think faster than they write, doesn't rereading pick up most of this or is it 'modern English.'

 

Then you add in a little sprinkling of 'wrong sense' this being where the sentence is twisted around, so superficially it sounds correct, but if you read it with attention the meaning in English is not what was intended.

 

The latter is much less frequent than the missing words which seem to be more and more common. And I'm talking about well written stories, so why the missing words?

I will give an example, because it just came to mind, and is not a quote from anyone except myself, here.

 

What would you write:

1. ...so why the missing words?

2. ...so why missing words?

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Some of the explanation can be writers who aren't native English speaking. Some other languages don't use the or a. Or it's sloppy writing. Editing isn't fun and the itch to get the story out can be hard to not scratch.

 

Then it can of course be intended as a style, like Carlos said.

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Unless it's a style thing, blame the editor. It's far too easy to overlook things, and mentally "fill in the blanks."

 

Carlos raises a good point, in that language changes, and spoken language changes first, like it always has. In the beginning, there was the spoken word, and it was good. Then, somebody wanted to preserve that word, so they wrote it down. Then, somebody decided it all had to be standardized, and grammar was invented, so academicians could argue about Oxford commas.

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…Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but you realize of course, your examples have different yet equal meanings, right…? 

 

‘The’ is an identifier in the English language, thus until something specific is singled out, it cannot be used. For example, “I wonder if we’ll have good weather today” (unidentified); “I wonder what the weather in Borneo is like this time of year” (identified). 

 

Another easy-to-access example is “What time is it?” (unidentified); “What's the time allowed for the tennis match?” (identified). 

 

So I’m not sure, but perhaps many of the examples of dropped words you are seeing fall into this category :) I wouldn’t blame “foreign speak” for it, that is, if I understand your posting correctly. 

 

An excellent guide, and one I’ve relied on for years, is Cambridge University’s “Grammar in Use.” It offers very concise and user-friendly explanations on hundreds of English’s more tenacious foibles (and the index makes looking up anything very easy).  

 

 Cheers!

Edited by AC Benus
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I hope he doesn't mind me telling tales out of school ( ;) ), but William PM'd me with some examples of what he's been seeing.

 

My 'the' examples stand correct, but now I know the two issues involved are slightly more pervasive.

 

Without getting into specifics, one seems to involve words that simply drop out of sentences for whatever reason. For me personally, I have to do a self-editing process involving reading my work backwards, line by line, to pick up words I might otherwise gloss over reading in context. Stated another way, scanning the line "I hope Mary succeeds chess on Monday" might provide the dropped word 'at' without me being aware of it. This filling-in happens to all of us to some degree, and when it occurs to our editing team, it probably means what we've written is compelling enough not to have the mistakes stand out. There's nothing we can do about this except have good Samaritans point out gaps in our posted texts for us.    

 

A second point is related to dangling modifiers. These pesky things can simply place the subject of a sentence in a confusing context. In a similar way, many times we gloss over it because the misplaced subject contradicts what is logical and we 'fix' it automatically in our minds.

 

Cia provided a nicely concise Grammar Rodeo entry on this subject here

 

For the record, I still think we're all subject to these types or errors, whether English is our native tongue or not…but maybe that's just my opinion.  

 

I am guilty of the dangling modifier error. The way a sentence flows out of my head is not always in the right order, even though it makes sense to me while I'm writing it. I really have to be careful with that, but I still miss the mistake(s) (sometimes often) when I'm editing. Actually, I'm sure there are many mistakes in my writing which are overlooked even after editing...  :huh:  This discussion will help me pay closer attention. I hope. 

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I am guilty of the dangling modifier error. The way a sentence flows out of my head is not always in the right order, even though it makes sense to me while I'm writing it. I really have to be careful with that, but I still miss the mistake(s) (sometimes often) when I'm editing. Actually, I'm sure there are many mistakes in my writing which are overlooked even after editing...  :huh:  This discussion will help me pay closer attention. I hope. 

Our errors are why we have editors ... but that's not such a simple job either.  But i know how bad i am at editing my own work .. even when i go into it with gritted teeth determination!!  I send it off thinking.. it will be better this time .. and it comes back with red everywhere.  Sigh.. well that's how it is and I'm grateful to my wonderful editors (AC, and JayT) for each mark/correction they offer me. They've made me a much better and aware writer.

 

None of us will ever be perfect but we can aspire to it.

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I have to say that the situation with left-out/missing words has been an ongoing phenomena in our local and national newspapers for a long, long time. I'll allow fair reasoning to say that space requirements/limits can (but, perhaps not entirely) be the reason for dropped words in media. I say 'fair reason' but I read two newspapers each day, and parts of others from various sources, and I see this issue of dropped words (seemingly) becoming more prevalent as time passes. Often enough there is space enough to fit in an otherwise dropped word, this being based on the space allowed for lines above and below where the dropped word would have been located, and the wording of the article would have been more naturally read had the dropped word been there: most of the time one can see the necessity for losing a word in the spacing of a newspaper article. This isn't done unconsciously, of course, because as has been mentioned our brains have a great propensity for applying a word when it isn't there, just as we don't have any great difficulty reading words that are mispselled as long as the first and last letter of the word are in their correct positions. Did any of you a problem reading the misspelled word in the last sentence? So, are newspapers (media in general) leaving off words knowing that we'll pick them up automatically?

 

I do wonder if we are rewiring our brains to leave off certain words by all the media we read. Or should I have written: '...by all the media that we read.'? If not media, something is influencing a number of us.

 

As to the twisted sentences that William mentions - I am guilty of putting the cart before the horse occasionally when writing. I also sometimes do this when talking, too. It's a curse.

Edited by Ron
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Just to reinforce and support what's already been said, there are two broad categories of missing words:

 

  • typos
  • cultural variations

 

I'm guilty of both :D I tend to think faster than I can type, so sometimes I miss words when I'm writing. I catch a fair number of them, and my team catches a lot of other ones, but some still slip through.

 

The second one is because Australian's are lazy and leave off what we consider to be useless filler words (and then we put in a whole lot of new fillers, but that's another story 0:) ). The example of someone "is in hospital" is the classic example, After all, what does "a" or "the" add to that statement? The other classic one is when someone "has concussion." It's not "a concussion" because a person can only have one concussion at a time. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;) Australian's tend to leave off "a" or "the" in a number of cases, but don't expect consistency as whether or not those words are omitted can depend on the context.

 

The key with the second type is whether the missing word appears in dialogue or first-person narrative. In both cases, they're acceptable, the same as other cultural variants like y'all, howdy, etc. In third person narrative, it becomes trickier as it depends on the setting of the story. If the story is set in Australia, for example, I would consider it acceptable to have the entire story use Australian cultural variations. If the story is set in the USA, however, with an Australian charcacter, I would expect the narration to use USA norms and only the dialogue would use the Australian cultural variation.

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I disagree with your assessment of the broad categories being spoken of here, Graeme. A typographical error (typo) is the misspelling of a word in written text, not the leaving out of a word entirely. It is that "leaving out" of a word that otherwise would—one might say should, one might say expect, one might say need—be written that is the subject of this post. Why leave off a word that has been consistently used to flesh out the written word in the past? What seems to be the prevailing reason for leaving off these normally, formally acceptable words? I don't think that anyone can argue successfully that the written word of a specific region or population should not be written or read in the manner that best represents those peoples. That is a nonsensical argument and not germane to this discussion. It is the sudden dropping of words that have been a constant over time that are indiscriminately being dismissed that is under discussion. I say indiscriminately because not every author subscribes to this venture. I'm not saying that the loss is a dumbing down of literature necessarily but some nuance is bound to become missing when we constrict the written word.

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It is the sudden dropping of words that have been a constant over time that are indiscriminately being dismissed that is under discussion.

A lot of good points have been made, some that have come up in previous discussions, however, Ron sums up best why I started the thread - it is the phenomenon of missing words. He is also correct that it is not just here, it's everywhere, although I never thought newspapers might do it to fit the space - I'm still not convinced about that. You see it in articles published online all the time and there space is not a limitation.

 

I am tending to the opinion that it's a lazy carefree progression of the English language that is being introduced. One might speculate about the reasons this is happening, but it most definitely is happening.

 

I'm so pleased that Ron understood the point I was attempting to make (badly), because at times I have thought that maybe I am going mad, being the only one to notice this.

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An alternative explanation is that Australian English is taking over the world, but even I have trouble believing that one :*):P

 

Ron, I accept that 'typo' may not be an accurate description, but the intent with that category was a typing error. In this case it's an error of omission, which I agree is not normally considered to be a 'typo'.

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