By in Writing

When Sick, Wipe Down

“If a member of your household is sick it is especially important to wipe them down.”

I was researching about the items in a household which would be most likely to allow disease or illness to be passed from one member of the family to another when I ran across this sentence on a web page. With my vivid imagination, it was not difficult for me to picture a wife taking a handful of antibacterial wipes to vigorously swab down her sneezy wheezy cold-suffering husband or children from head to germy toe.

I know the author did not intend that sort of misinterpretation. Looking in the three sentences previous to this one, I could find nothing to which the pronoun could be referring. The subheading of the paragraph was the only place which indicated what was to be wiped down. In case you were wondering, the germ-laden object was a remote control.

I remember teaching my children about pronouns and the importance of placing the antecedent, the noun which the pronoun is replacing, in very close proximity to the pronoun. Otherwise misinterpretations are possible. Consider the following example:

When she sneezed, it flew from her mouth. (Without the sentence “Miserable with a sore throat, Amy sucked on a lozenge,” 'it' could refer to all manner of nasty things. Well, couldn't it?)

But, then again, if you have an imagination like mine which occasionally enjoys mental prompts to conjure up images to giggle at, then forget about pronouns and antecedents. I promise, I won't laugh too much.

Image Credit » Sandra L. Petersen

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WordChazer wrote on January 19, 2015, 12:50 PM

Some writers can't proofread. Some writers don't proofread. Some using suspect software to rework other articles. All of which results in the unintended humor you mention.

paigea wrote on January 19, 2015, 1:03 PM

It is fun to spot sentences like that. But I'm sure I also write a few of them myself.

AliCanary wrote on April 16, 2015, 4:16 AM

Word order is important, indeed--as Groucho Marx once quipped, "I once shot a bear in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas, I'll never know."

LeaPea2417 wrote on December 13, 2015, 4:31 PM

Yes, all household surfaces must be washed, cleaned and wiped down to prevent infections from spreading when a family member is sick.