The Failure of 8 Year-Olds (aka, Dangling Modifiers)

I was recently helping a colleague clean out his 21GB inbox (People, do you really need all the daily work minutiae? I think I have to write a segment on inbox management at some point), and came across this beautifully ambiguous line that virtually leapt out at me during the email exorcism:

“The staff spend close to 100% of their day in front of the monitors and they are nearly 8 years old so are on the brink of failure.”

I had not realized that we hired eight year-olds, and damned if those eight year-olds weren’t about to kick the bucket and/or screw up colossally. I also hadn’t made the leap of faith that equated being eight with being a failure. I thought that one had to wait till the age of fifty to start contemplating whether one’s life was a failure.

I do believe this little sentence drives the point home that it is important to qualify all dangling modifiers:

“The staff spend close to 100% of their day in front of the monitors. Those monitors are nearly 8 years-old and are likely* on the brink of failure.”

* In the defense of monitors, I should add that one cannot presuppose that an eight year-old monitor is about to stop working…there is a good chance that the monitor is going to crash soon, but this scenario is a likelihood, not a certainty.

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