WordBird Tips: Disembodied Body Parts
One of my favorite grammar errors is the dangling modifier, where a verb or adjective adheres or phrase itself to the next noun, even when it shouldn’t.
The results are often hilarious. A good example is a line from the Lady Gaga song “Summer Boy”:
“My martini glistens / while checking out other guys.”
The implication is that the martini is checking out other guys.
A Related Issue
Another one of my favorite grammatical problems is the “disembodied body part,” which crops up far more frequently than you would think.
It’s somewhat related to the dangling modifier, in the sense the noun/verb pairing leads to some hilarious implications. The difference is the dangling modifier indicates a problem with parsing. A noun and verb end up too close together, with the result the verb “attaches” itself to the wrong noun. In the Gaga example, “I” can be implied or assumed. Because it’s not restated, however, “checking out” (the verb in the second clause) attaches itself to the closest noun: “my martini.”
The disembodied body part can imbue eyes, hands, and feet with sentience, much the same way the dangling modifier gives Lady Gaga’s martini the ability to check out guys. The disembodied body part differs because there’s no parsing error. The noun and verb go together because there’s no other way to interpret the sentence. There’s often no other noun for the verb to attach to.
How Does That Happen?
This grammatical construction takes a body part noun—such as eye, foot, or hand—and pairs it with a verb. In some cases, we can get away with this: “My hands shook.”
The problem occurs when the verb implies the body part is acting of its own accord.
“My hand grabbed the backpack.” “My eyes looked at him.”
A Small Alteration
“I grabbed the backpack.” “I looked at him.”
When the Body Part Is the Right Noun
“My hand wrapped around the handle of the backpack.” “I wrapped around the handle of the backpack.”
Solving the Problem
“My eyes crept over him.”
“My gaze crept over him.”