Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cause and Effect

Here’s a cheery story for a Sunday morning. Apparently, a family came home from vacation and found a body in the back yard of their home.

A reporter at one of our local news stations, after relaying those same facts, had this to say:

“There is no known cause at this time.”

Um. Okay. Cause for what, exactly? The cause for the body being in the back yard? The cause of the family finding it?

Oh, wait! Maybe this writer meant cause of death!

The lesson here is simply this: Say what you mean. Don’t be vague in your writing, or assume that your reader will know what you’re talking about just because it sounds good in your head.

If this writer had kept that advice in mind, he/she wouldn’t have written this gem of a closing sentence:

“We're told based on the state of the composition of the body, it could take weeks to determine the cause.”

There’s that cause thing again.

But a friend who pointed me to this story was more amused by the “composition of the body.” Well, let’s see. Flesh, bone…

Perhaps the writer meant “decomposition.”

Perhaps the writer needs to watch more episodes of Bones and pick up some terminology. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from TV.

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