Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WNW: When "Right" Is Twitchy

Our local recreation center has a sign on the track that reads, in part, something like:

If you swam, Dry off before going on the track

A good friend e-mailed me about it after twitching all through her three times-a-week runs around that track. She asked if the sign was wrong, because it sounded awkward (especially with "swam"), but she couldn't think of a better way to say it.

If you set aside the fact that dry shouldn't be capitalized here, the sign is grammatically correct.

The tenses of swim go like this:

Present tense: swim (This morning, I will swim for thirty minutes.)
Past tense: swam (Last week, I swam ten laps.)
Past participle: had swum (I thought back to the time I had swum with a team.)

So swam is the right form of the word, plain old past tense.

And yet. That sign makes me twitch too.

It's a great case of when smooth writing and clarity trump "right." In other words, just because it's correct doesn't mean it's the best way of saying something.

The other day, as I was leaving the rec center, I saw her as she came around the track. "I've got it!" she said. "It should say, 'Dry off after swimming'!"


She's absolutely right. The sign could be rewritten in a number of ways, and that's a great one. It would not only save room, but be clearer. Her version takes the verb swam and turns it into a noun, swimming.

As you all know, I get all twitchy when things are incorrect, but that doesn't mean I won't twitch when they're correct—but goofy and awkward.

A great writer can take a twitchy (but correct) sentence and mold it, making the end result something others will read and understand without a second thought.

Or a twitch.


Melissa Cunningham said...

Great post! But twitching can be fun. It reminds you that you're alive! =P

Myrna Foster said...

I find sentences like that all the time in my early drafts. Sometimes I re-write them, but quite often I can just delete them.

Susan Anderson said...

It just doesn't sound pleasing to the ear, does it? In cases like that, I often do something like "If you took a swim..."


Melanie Jacobson said...

Yeah. Self-editing is all about de-twitching. Sigh.

Lisa Loo said...

Dang, I thought this was going to be a post about morals--you know--like when doing something right makes you twitchy???

Lara Neves said...

I just read a sentence like that in a book. It was correct, but just seemed awkward and didn't really go with the style the author had going, either. I imagine she had a difficult time trying to say that particular thing, because I couldn't think of anything better but it still really BUGGED me!

Blondie said...

Yay! I feel so validated :)
I hadn't really thought about it before, but perhaps that capitalized D contributed to me thinking the "swam" might have been wrong too. If the rec center people don't have the grammatical sense to keep random capitalization out of a sentence can I really trust them to properly conjugate verbs?

Scott said...

I love WNW! I've learned from writing for social media for the past year how important phrasing can be. It's especially important when you're aiming for minimal characters (Twitter, obviously, but did you know that research has shown Facebook posts by brands that are under 80 characters receive the most engagement? True story).

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Love this. It's exactly the point I'm at in the editing process. I've worked on fixing what's wrong, now I'm fixing the awkward bits. It can be a hard thing, realizing that right and smooth are different things all together.a

Shelley said...

A little off topic, but I just was trying to write about a windy road and spell check kept yelling at me for spelling it winedy, and I guess it's just context that lets you know if it's twisted or blowing but I would like an's confusing.

Jessica G. said...

Many signs posted in public places made me twitch...I've been known to correct some when no one was looking!


Amazon's famous Prime Day events are huge for so many reasons, and for bookworms, it's even better: books aren't high-ticket ite...