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Saturday, November 03, 2012

How to Write Vaguely

Here:

"Having parked a van containing 1,000 pounds of explosives in front of the Federal Reserve Bank on Liberty Street, he tried to detonate it via cell phone switch from a room in the Millennium Hotel. To his surprise, it was fake."

What is the referent of "it"? On my first reading, I suspected the hotel.

4 comments:

  1. Fake hotels? Now *that* is giving 110% in your sting operation!

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  2. Seriously though, I'm still wondering whether he's referring to the cell phone switch or the explosives in the van.

    The latter implies the former, of course, but I guess it's possible you could have a real cell phone detonator and fake explosives.

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    Replies
    1. I would really hope they gave him fake explosives. But the writer says "it was fake," which disagrees in number with explosives.

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    2. That's what I thought at first, too, but then I realized the "it" in the first sentence refers to the van.

      You can detonate a van and detonate a bomb. 'Detonate' just means 'to explode or cause to explode'. But the van being fake is about as realistic as the hotel being fake; however, here, the explosives can be fake. I just think there is a possibility of the author misusing the word "it" to refer to the explosives because he thinks the same "it" is usable in both circumstances (when the second "it" obviously doesn't work out).

      If we give him the benefit of the doubt, you are clearly right.

      Delete