Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Can Logic Right Injustice? Popcorn by The Colonel #54

Introduction: This is a real letter with only the name of the sender and his daughter changed. A friend felt his daughter got a raw deal on one question on the SAT. He wrote the following letter to the College Board people.

Dear Sir or Madam:

My daughter Esmeralda Knesebeck took the SAT test administered in May 2013. This message is about question 33 in section 5, which concerned the sentence Actually, I did mind and grudgingly allowed him entrance into my sanctuary.
The question asked which of the stated revisions was “most needed” to the sentence. Esmeralda gave “(E)” as the correct answer—that “entrance into” should be changed to “to enter.”

But according to your Question-and-Answer Service the correct answer is “(C)”—that the “most needed” fix was to add the word “only” before “grudgingly.”
Yet nothing about “grudgingly” requires use of the word “only.” In fact, a search of use of the word “grudgingly” in the New York Times in the past year uncovered no instances of use of “only” with “grudgingly” and 17 instance of use of “grudgingly” without “only.”
By contrast, usage guides invariably recommend that one use verbs instead of abstract nouns ( “buried verbs”), and that’s the fix that Esmerelda thought most needed in this case.

For example, Garner’s Modern American Usage, at page 120, says, “It is hardly an exaggeration … to say that when the verb will work in context, the better choice is almost always to use it instead of a buried verb.” In this context, “entrance” is an abstract noun; “to enter” is a verb.
It is a stretch to say that unburying the verb is “needed”—it would be more accurate to say that it makes the sentence less stiff. But it’s even more of a stretch to say that inserting “only” is needed. “Grudgingly” is a strong word that needs no crutch.
I’d be pleased to hear what you think and whether you propose to adjust Esmeralda’s score.
With regards and compliments, I am

Very truly yours,

Gunnar Knesebeck


Elizabeth Bobrick said...

And what a joy it is to hear from parents like this when their beloved child, now a student at an elite college, gets a B+ instead of the A they clearly deserve.

Chantal DeArmitt said...

I completely agree with Popcorn by The Colonel #54. I really hope he gets an answer from the SAT Board and I can't wait to see how they handle this.