May 28th, 2012 .

Either Right or Wrong

Pat Morden

Recently I came across an advertisement for packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble in a popular women’s magazine. The ad focused on P&G “ambassador” Paula Findlay. One line in the ad caught my attention. It read: “The born-and-raised Edmontonian either has been swimming, biking or running her way to first place for the past six years and is now in the spotlight to represent Canada in the London 2012 Olympic Games.”

Where do I begin? First, there’s nothing clever about the phrase born-and-raised Edmontonian. For the reader it would be much simpler to say, Born and raised in Edmonton, she . . . The sentence is also far too long and complicated, especially in the context of advertising, where attention spans are notoriously short. The phrase in the spotlight is vague.

But it was the use of either/or that really got me thinking. The technical term for either/or is a correlative conjunction. That simply means that it is used to connect and relate two or more grammatically equivalent words. (Other examples are both/and, neither/nor, and not only/but also.) The trick is to ensure that the either precedes the first of those grammatically equivalent words, not something else in the sentence.

A famous example is the sentence, “He was both deaf to argument and entreaty,” which should read, “He was deaf to both argument and entreaty.”

In the case of the P&G ad, the grammatically equivalent words are the three participles, swimming, biking and running. On that basis the sentence should read, “. . . has been either swimming, biking or running . . .”

Or should it? There’s also a question of meaning here. Findlay is a triathlete. To get to first place in any competition she has to do all three events well. The either/or construction actually confuses the meaning.

Here’s how I would edit this particular mess:

Born and raised in Edmonton, Findlay has been swimming, biking and running her way to first place for the past six years. She is now preparing to represent Canada in the London 2012 Olympic Games.”

Easy-peasy, for writer and reader alike!

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