Where should I put this word?

I recently saw a photograph with the caption: “Jimmy Piersall Rounds the Bases Backwards.” Sure enough, the photo shows Piersall, a former major league baseball player, with his back to home plate and his body turned toward third base. It truly looks like Piersall, who had just hit his 100th home run, was running around the bases backward: from home to third to second to first and back to home.

But that’s not true. In fact, Piersall ran the bases in the proper direction of home to first to second to third to home. But with his body turned backward. A better caption, properly worded to accurately describe the baseballer’s action, could have been: “Jimmy Piersall Runs Backward around the Bases.”

“What’s the difference?” you might ask. To find the answer, look at the following pairs of sentences. The words in each are the same, but the order in which they appear significantly alters the action described.

    We talked about sailing to Key Largo last summer. (sailing trip in the past)
    Last summer, we talked about sailing to Key Largo. (conversation in the past)

    The boy with the vase of flowers stood next to the table. (the boy is holding the vase)
    The boy stood next to the table with the vase of flowers. (the vase is on the table)

    She spoke about dancing enthusiastically. (describes how she danced)
    She spoke enthusiastically about dancing. (describes how she spoke)

When writing, be careful to compose your sentence to properly convey your intended message.

By the way, in spite of common incorrect usage, “backwards” (as used in the Jimmy Piersall caption) is not a word. Neither is “towards,” “forwards,” or any such directional word with an “s” at the end. Yes, such words now appear in dictionaries and some journalism, especially it seems among sports writers, but only because the misuse has become accepted.

For your quality writing, use the proper words and place your phrases in the proper places. Unless, of course, you’re writing dialogue within fiction and you want to intentionally show that a character is uneducated or using pop-speak.

DSCN0491-Cape-Trib-beach-2013-12-25-crop-600pxw-224x142

When Captain James Cook explored Australia, he also used questionable words to name the land forms he discovered. This idyllic, white-sand beach, for example, is on a tropical northern part of the continent that Cook named Cape Tribulation.

He also named Broken Bay, Mount Warning, Point Danger, and Weary Bay along with places given more benign or prestigious names.

As a local kayaking guide said, perhaps apocryphally, “Captain Cook was on a mission of the Royal Crown, supposedly a dangerous mission, so he couldn’t very well give the impression he was having a jolly good time in paradise, could he?”

Photo by Robert M Weir, Christmas Day 2013, Cape Tribulation Beach, Australia.




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