Thursday, January 08, 2009


This sentence (from a book review in the New York Times) puzzled me enormously at first.

To see how arousal alters sexual attitudes, for example, Ariely and his colleagues asked young men to answer a questionnaire — then asked them to answer it again, only this time while indulging in Internet pornography on a laptop wrapped in Saran Wrap.

I stopped reading to think about this. Just how tightly were these young men wrapped? How could they breathe? Wouldn't the Saran Wrap defeat the purpose of the experiment? Or was this some sort of exciting sexual thing that everybody knew about except me? How bizarre.

The mental picture I got was also rather disturbing. I imagined a room full of young men dressed in nothing but Saran Wrap, with laptop computers (on their laps?) and scientists with white coats and clipboards standing behind them.

Then I decided I must have missed something important, and went back to the beginning and read it again.

Is it just me, or does that sentence need some rewriting?

(It seems like an interesting book, though.)


kenju said...

HA! The sentence is confusing, but the way I read it, the laptops were wrapped in saran, to protect them....

I'd like to see the results of that research!

Badaunt said...

Yes, I gathered that much - on my second, slower reading.

But quite aside from the comical effect (which is, I THINK, unintentional), I still do not understand why the Saran Wrap needed to be mentioned at all. It is irrelevant to the point of the story. I think this was why I was misled, quite aside from the grammatical confusion. What did the laptops' fate have to do with anything?

As far as I can see it is a badly written AND unnecessary detail. (Says the English teacher, primly.)

Badaunt said...

(Funny, though.)

Tabor said...

I also envisioned the laptops wrapped in Saran Wrap and being the practical one wondered how often the keys didn't work and they ended up on a none porn website and the experiment had to be started over again. Who paid for this? I hope not the taxpayer.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Actually, there's nothing grammatically wrong with the Saran Wrap sentence. The Saran Wrap reference comes right after laptops, which would make it refer to the laptops. Which is how it should be, but is far too rarely nowadays. But is it clear writing? Well, it could be clearer. As clear as Saran Wrap. ;-)

Badaunt said...

I don't think it's grammatically wrong, exactly, just not clear. It's one of those sentences that can be read either way, and it's not obvious from context unless you think about it (and then think "Eww!") - and did the writer really want us to think about it? And if so, WHY?

For example, you could write, "Helen sat on the steps wrapped in a shawl," and I'm fairly sure that most people would understand that Helen is wrapped in a shawl, even though the reference comes right after steps. The context makes it obvious.

But in this case, I did not immediately grasp what the Saran Wrap was for (because I'm a prim, clean-minded English teacher, and as you know we're all like that:-)) and mentally wrapped it around the young men, and then wondered what purpose that achieved for the experiment. (Come to think of it, 'to protect the laptops' works quite well as an answer to that, too!)

Mr Curley said...

Very similar in fact to a dangling modifier item I remember from an practice set for TOEFL: "Wrapped in translucent green, Jane give him the present". Or something like that. Bet his attitude was a bit aroused, especially if he liked green... :-)