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An advantage to knowing what words mean | COMMENTARY

One of my favorite classroom examples in my editing class at Loyola University Maryland was this gem, published in Newsday:

The old expression, it’s like trying to turn around the Queen Mary, no longer holds. While it’s 100 feet longer than the original ship, this one turns on a dime, thanks to three thrusters. In no time flat the ship turned 90 degrees, going from a horizontal position between two piers into a vertical one ready to head into the berth, with the ease of a kid twirling a toy boat in a bathtub.

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My students would look blank, perhaps stunned by the allusion that no one recognized, the strained wordiness, and the inane metaphor.

By way of a hint, I would say, “I believe that RMS Titanic once performed the same maneuver.”

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And if the penny did not drop then, I would draw on the blackboard two side-by-side piers and a ship in relation to them, and finally someone would realize that the words the writer had been groping for were perpendicular and parallel.

And after that, the meta lesson: that something can be made correct and still be dreadful.

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