Monday, January 02, 2006

Muddling with 'because'

Because is one of those words that can be very useful, and sometimes very tricky to keep from muddling what comes after. As an example, in a story about the Tom DeLay-engineered Texas redistricting:

Following the 2000 census, a three-judge federal court in Texas was given the task of redistricting because a split legislature couldn't agree on a redistricting plan. But when Republicans took control of both houses in 2002, they said the court's plan was untenable because it gave too much power to Democrats and called for an unusual second redistricting.

Just as the GOP took control of the legislature, because is the kind of word that seizes control of everything that follows. If you don't make clear where the cause and effect ends, the reader is likely to keep associating back to because.

In this case, it wasn't the first redistricting plan that called for a second redistricting plan, which is what the sentence, as structured, implies. A clear independent clause needs to be established for the second part of the sentence to show the break from because.

But when Republicans took control of both houses in 2002, they said the court's plan was untenable because it gave too much power to Democrats, and the GOP called for an unusual second redistricting.

(You could use "they" in place of "the GOP," but then that just briefly muddies whether the reference is back to the Democrats, so why chance it?)

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