EssaySnark was introduced to this language error in the Coursera class we talked about last year, Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, taught by two Duke profs. That class was **awesome** and they may be offering it again (it’s free!). In one of the early lessons, they talked about Garden Path Sentences in the context of linguistics and how words come together to form a logical argument (it’s in Lecture 1-7, in case you decide to take the class).
EssaySnark had never heard of Garden Path Sentences. We had certainly encountered Garden Path Sentences in BSers’ essays over the years, but didn’t realize there was an official term for them. But there’s an official term for everything, isn’t there?
We will not keep you in suspense any longer. Here’s what this thing is, so that you can look out for it in your own writing:
A Garden Path Sentence is one that can be read multiple ways, with totally different interpretations. Garden Path Sentences set the reader up to interpret them one way, but then they veer off in another direction and jumble your brain halfway through.
Here’s the example that Prof. Sinnott-Armstrong used:
The man who whistles tunes pianos.
Another you may have heard before is:
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
Wikipedia says that “‘Garden path’ refers to the saying ‘to be led down the garden path’, meaning ‘to be misled’.” That’s when people are constructing a Garden Path Sentence intentionally (we’ve always wondered if Yogi Berra was an intentional mystic or not).
Even better: An example that came through our Twitstream recently:
Prostitutes appeal to the Pope #gardenpath
— Akil Bello (@akilbello) September 20, 2013
When you proofread your essays, a Garden Path Sentence may be tough for you to notice – after all, when you’re reading your own work, your brain interprets the words on the page the way you meant them. That’s why typos can be hard to spot; the brain glosses over them and reads them as if they’re written correctly, since you know what you meant! Garden Path Sentences are not the most common error we ever see in writing, but they’re a frustrating error for the reader, because they pull you up cold. You’re humming along with the writer, absorbing their ideas, picking up what they’re putting down, and then BLAMO! You’re slammed with a big Hunh?!? It’s quite the buzzkill.
We will point out errors like this to a BSer when we’re doing an essay critique – and joy upon joy, now we know what to call them. Thank you, awesome Duke profs with your free Coursera class on logic and reason!