Why the grammar in the Ohio candidate’s Facebook post is so, so wrong
On Friday, a state Supreme Court justice running for Ohio governor wrote a Facebook post about his past sexual encounters, amid what he called a “national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions.”
Democratic candidate Bill O’Neill earned swift criticism for his crude bragging — but he made it even worse with grammatical mistakes that made it seem like he had slept with a male US senator in a hayloft.
Let’s break down this sentence from his initial Facebook post, which he later edited (without really correcting the errors): “In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head.”
That sure makes it sound like his first true love was Senator Bob Taft, a former Ohio senator who died in 1953. Oops.
We know what he meant to say. Given that he’s specifically detailing how he was “intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females,” we can assume he wasn’t trying to include Taft, a man, in that group. That’s not what he actually wrote, though.
Let’s look at where he went wrong. He says he’s going to give a range of examples, and he does, but the problem is that his “from . . . to” construction makes it sound like the secretary and the senator are both examples of people with whom he’s slept. That’s how you’d write about a range of examples — from (something) to (something else).
But when it takes as long as this sentence does to get to the part about “ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head,” people are going to think the first two people he mentions are both examples of people with whom he slept.
He even repeats that problem in the second half of the sentence, which talks about a “red head who was a senior advisor to Peter Lewis.” In the range of people with whom he’s slept, are we supposed to include Peter Lewis? Nope, just another grammar mistake.
How should he have phrased it? Well, here are some options:
1. Maybe he could have referred to “a gorgeous personal secretary for Senator Bob Taft,” although that doesn’t solve the problem with the long clause about “who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn.” So, that’s not enough. Let’s keep going.
2. Let’s try moving the clause about “my first true love” for clarity, and if we make the senator’s name possessive, we’ll get closer to making sense: “It ranged from my first true love, Senator Bob Taft (Senior)’s gorgeous personal secretary . . . ”
That’s still not quite right — at the end, he drops the “from . . . to” construction in favor of “ended with.” So, let’s take another shot at fixing this.
3. He should have continued using a parallel construction of “from . . . to”: “It ranged from my first true love, Senator Bob Taft (Senior)’s gorgeous personal secretary and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn, to a drop dead gorgeous red head.”
Almost there. A few more tweaks:
“The list ranged from my first true love, Senator Bob Taft (Senior)’s gorgeous personal secretary to whom I made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn, to a drop dead gorgeous red head.”
Well, that makes about as much sense as anything on this topic could.
Also, really, he should have written “red head” as one word, spelled “advisor” as “adviser,” and talked about “her parents’ barn,” with a possessive apostrophe . . . but those are lesser sins against grammar and Boston Globe style. For now, let’s settle for fixing the part that caused the most confusion — even if it means heartbreak for people rooting for a Taft-O’Neill relationship.
Carrie Blazina is a multiplatform editor for the Globe who has fixed copy for reporters, editors, and now Ohio gubernatorial candidates.