My husband is the garden writer for our local newspaper. Years ago, when he started writing for the paper, he had an editor who had a fetish about the word because. She thought it was a bad word, and if it ever slipped into a column he had written, she would call and tell him to substitute another word.
Ridiculous, of course. Good writers use because all the time.
But over the years I’ve come to realize that because is a tricky word, and her anti-because campaign probably could be traced back to a wise warning from some teacher in her long-forgotten past.
If you’re not careful, the word because can open the door to a dangling modifier. It happened to me in a letter I was writing just this week:
Charlie does as much of the palm pruning as he can even though a landscape crew comes every week because workers tend to butcher the trees.
It sounds as if a landscape crew comes because workers butcher trees. The problem is that the because idea comes directly after landscape crew rather than after my reference to Charlie’s free labor for our condominium.
I solved the problem by inserting a pair of commas so that even though a landscape crew comes every week becomes the “soft” part of the sentence. What sticks in your head is the “loud” part: Charlie does as much of the palm pruning as he can. If you read the sentence aloud, you can hear that there’s no possibility of confusion:
Charlie does as much of the palm pruning as he can, even though a landscape crew comes every week, because workers tend to butcher the trees. BETTER
And that leads me to a major gripe with the way writing is taught. Students endlessly label parts of speech and circle various categories of clauses and phrases. Many students never – not even once – are asked to grapple with the kind of sentence I just used as an example.
Maybe that’s why my husband’s editor was so confused about the word because.
By the way, this is what a palm tree is supposed to look like: thick and green. Never cut a green leaf from a palm tree. Yellowing leaves should be left alone too – the tree draws nutrients from them. (It’s ok to cut totally brown, dead leaves. Here’s a link for more information: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep443)