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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Appositively Sneaky


An appositive is a word or phrase that directly follows the noun it modifies.  As a rhetorical device, an appositive allows a writer to condense clauses into shorter phrases, thus adding a touch of sophistication to what could otherwise be flat, boring prose.  Consider, for example, the following:

Wombats are adorable.  Wombats carry leprosy.

If I want to combine those two independent clauses, I have a few options.  I can make one compound sentence, either with a coordinating conjunction:

Wombats are adorable, BUT they carry leprosy.

Or with a semi-colon:

Wombats are adorable; they carry leprosy.  (I would probably add a conjunctive adverb there--"however," most likely.)

I can make the two clauses into one complex sentence by turning one of the independent clauses into either an adverb clause:

Although wombats are adorable, they carry leprosy.

Or an adjective clause:

Wombats, which are adorable, carry leprosy.

All of these options are grammatically correct and perfectly acceptable (except, perhaps, to zoologists and wombats).  But if I want to "zazz" things up a bit, I could also combine these clauses by means of an appositive:

Wombats--adorable creatures--carry leprosy.

Or, depending on which aspect of the wombat I wish to emphasize:

Wombats--virulent leprosy carriers--are adorable.

(NOTE: The use of dashes is a stylistic preference; I could just as well use commas or parentheses to set off the appositive.)

The point is that the appositive allows me to add a bit of extra information without writing a whole 'nother clause.

Today's New York Times, in an article about the ongoing budgetary squabbles on Capitol Hill, featured an interesting appositive:

"By Friday, both the House and the Senate had closed for the Christmas break, and soon after his statement Mr. Obama left with his family for their annual holiday trip to Hawaii, his native state."

Catch that?  "His [Obama's] native state" is an appositive modifying "Hawaii."  When I saw that, I couldn't help wondering why it was there.  Strictly speaking, it isn't necessary--no appositive is, of course; almost by definition, the information an appositive conveys is "bonus" information.  In this case, the sentence could simply end after "Hawaii," with no significant loss of meaning.

Conceivably, the Times' editors felt it necessary to provide additional information to assuage readers prone to indignation: How DARE the President go on vacation when the nation's economic future hangs in the balance!  Except, this appositive doesn't offer such consolation.  That objection has already been blunted by the preceding information: that Congress has already adjourned for the holidays and that President Obama is not jetting off on some spur-of-the-moment getaway but is, rather, leaving for an "annual holiday trip."

On the other hand, maybe the editors felt that ending the sentence after Hawaii might give the impression that the Obamas were enjoying too luxurious a getaway for their "annual holiday trip"--that, in a time of economic strife, Barack and the girls should, I don't know, spend Christmas in a soup kitchen pretending to wash dishes.  I think that's what the Paul Ryan family is doing.  Maybe.

I, however, think something else is at work here.  I can't help but think the editors saw an irresistible opportunity to ruffle the feathers of inveterate Birthers, those small-minded sore losers who still can't accept the fact that President Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii.  (See, I can dash off a decent appositive, too.)

Well, Times editors, if that WAS your intention--if, at this solemn time of year when we should all seek peace and harmony with our fellow man, you just couldn't pass up a chance to tweak these poor benighted fools--well, all I can say is: Good for you!  Appositively!

1 comment:

  1. First, bats are adorable BECAUSE they carry rabies.
    Second, Obama'a "native state" is racist. Joe Biden goes back to his 'Home Town'
    Third, OR, Obama's "native state", is calm and rational to the point of annoyance, while his "Home Town" is Hawaii.
    OR, and this is the most accurate, his native state is, as it is for all of us, naked and alone... but, in his case, in Hawaii.