Friday, October 28, 2005

Getting all parochial about dugongs

David Pilling has been doing an excellent job of reporting on Japanese politics and economics for The Financial Times.

His zoology and syntax, however, are killing me.

Dugong dispute strains US-Japan alliance
By David Pilling
Published: October 27 2005 17:50

The dugong, an ancient marine mammal related to the seacow, loves to feed in the warm, blue waters off Okinawa in Japan's tropical south. Few would believe that this creature, with its vacuum cleaner-shaped snout and penchant for seaweed, could be undermining one of world's most important military alliances. They would be wrong...


Oh, all right. The first sentence make sense if one:

a) has read Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book cover-to-cover
b) ignores that "seacow" is one of the common names for the dugong, and
c) knows that fossil record indicates the dugong family is the older of the two families of surviving sirenians.

Otherwise it is absurd, the equivalent of:
The cow, an ancient land mammal related to the bovines, loves to feed on the sun-blessed ridges of England's green and pleasant land.
Or perhaps:

The elephant, an ancient land mammal related to the mammoth, loves to feed on the sere, golden plains of Tanzania.
And how tired must one be to miss that the second half of the Pilling's paragraph sentence says exactly the opposite of what he intended?
"Few would believe that this creature could be undermining...They would be wrong."
So the few who believe that it is undermining the alliance...are wrong.

No, no, no, no, that makes no sense.

What Pilling wants to say is that almost everybody would be mistaken. What he wants to say is:

“Most would believe that this creature could not possibly be undermining...They would be wrong.
Editor, Editor!!

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