Knotty, Naughty “Not”

Americans need leaders who rise to the occasion, not [my bolding] worry about their own pocketbooks.

(The Editorial Board, “Did Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler Profit From the Pandemic?” NYTimes, 3-20-20)

I haven’t read this particular article, but my reflexive answer to the rhetorical query posed by the headline is, “Yes, of course!”

I’m going to engage in something more productive than confirming the obvious venality of corrupt public servants; I’m going to nitpick the syntax of the subheading cited above. It may seem a perversely trivial exercise for a brewing virus apocalypse.

Not so, I contend. Blinkered pols, hoarding hordes, flouting doubters, and concomitant ignorance, distortion, corruption, greed, incompetence, fallability, panic, delusion, and folly are readily available.

What’s in short supply is nitpicking over syntax, which I remedy here. This is the flawed subheading again for ready reference:

Americans need leaders who rise to the occasion, not worry about their own pocketbooks.

Here are three versions of it that fix the flaw:

A. Americans need leaders who rise to the occasion, not worrying about their own pocketbooks. (Adverb “not” governs an adverbial phrase of manner expressing “how” leaders rise.)

B. Americans need leaders who rise to the occasion and do not (don’t) worry about their own pocketbooks. (Adverb “not” is replaced by a negative verb phrase following a coordinating conjunction “and” introducing a dependent clause whose implied subject is a repeated “who.”)

C. Americans need leaders who rise to the occasion, not those who worry about their own pocketbooks. (Similar to B. Adverb “not” remains, but governs a dependent clause with a supplied demonstrative subject pronoun.)

The power of language and its potential to cure into poetry asserts itself the more we rise to the task of probing not ourselves and our own emotions but rather the thing outside us, the other, and its syntax.

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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