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.