A comma, doctor!

Shaoni Bhattacharya, “Tracking the rhino killers”, New Scientist of November 20:

Typically gangs [of poachers] fly in on light aircraft, use veterinary darts to sedate animals and cut off their horns without alerting rangers, then leave the animals to bleed to death.

Unpleasant story. But the first time through, I read the sentence as having cut off their horns parallel to sedate animals — that is, as saying that the poachers use veterinary darts to sedate animals and (somehow) to cut off their horns — rather than to the “higher” VP use veterinary darts to sedate animals, which, on a moment’s reflection, is clearly the intended sense.

“Low” readings are often seductive, but in this case the incorrect low reading could easily have been excluded, by the use of a serial comma:

Typically gangs fly in on light aircraft, use veterinary darts to sedate animals, and cut off their horns without alerting rangers, then leave the animals to bleed to death.

But apparently the style sheet rules, no matter what.

 

4 Responses to “A comma, doctor!”

  1. Rick S Says:

    I read the coordination as between “sedate animals” and “cut off their horns without alerting rangers”, the implication being that without anesthesia the rhinos would have to be shot dead, and the rifle’s report would risk drawing the rangers’ attention. If this was the intent, the serial comma would have obscured the meaning.

  2. Edward I as Oliver Cromwell « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 11/21/10: A comma, doctor! (link): commas in “high” vs. “low” attachment of […]

  3. Allusions, playful variations, snowclones, themes, subjects, memes, tropes, genres | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] previous “We need a comma!” posting was from 11/21/10, having to do with high vs. low modification in a New Scientist […]

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