Steve states that communication is composed of several parts of speech and it must be organized by several rules of grammar upon which we agree. He writes "When these rules break down, confusion and misunderstanding result. Bad grammar produces bad sentences." He then proceeds to quote his favorite example from the book "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White.
"As a mother of five, with another one on the way, my ironing board is always up."
I scratched my head and grimaced feeling a bit hopeless. After all Steven King is one of my favorite writers and this is HIS FAVORITE example of how bad grammar produces bad sentences. The problem is, I didn't see it. To me the meaning of the sentence is plain. A pregnant woman, who already has five kids, is obviously talking or thinking about the fact that her ironing board is always up due to her situation. I must have reread the sentence twenty times and still I didn't see it. I showed it to several people, they thought it was OK. What is the problem? I gave up and I did what we all do to obtain information in these times: I googled it.
The problem seems to be the following: The segment "mother of five" is a "dangling modifier". This means that it is intended to describe a noun or pronoun that isn't there next to it. Because the closest noun in the sentence is "ironing board" it is claimed that this will confuse the reader into thinking the ironing board has had five children and is pregnant again.
Really? Sorry but this thought never crossed my mind while reading this sentence. When the meaning of a sentence is crystal clear to the majority of people who read it, how can you make the case that it is confusing and wrong? The purpose of grammar is not to follow rules blindly because they are THE RULES. The purpose of grammar is to make the text readable and clear for the reader. With regards to the sentence in question, even though the noun is not next to the modifier "mother of five", its presence is very clearly implied (the woman is talking about herself, not the ironing board). The meaning is so obvious that there is no confusion. If the readers don't see a problem, if the text is readable, if the meaning is clear, why create an issue when there isn't one?
You could argue that the rules should be applied in general to every situation so we can avoid the more obvious cases such as:
"Wrapped in foil, Joe ate the hamburger."
(Did Joe wrap himself in foil before eating the hamburger, or did he eat the hamburger which was wrapped in foil?)
"Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap."
(Who was in a dilapidated condition, the person who bought the house, or the house?)
or part of a funny quote from Groucho Marx:
"This morning I shot an elephant wearing my pajamas."
(Did he shoot an elephant while he was wearing his pajamas, or did he shoot and elephant that was wearing his pajamas?)
I do agree that in many such cases the reading experience can be improved by fixing the grammar. However, I would argue that we have to proceed in a case by case basis because context and implied meanings may trump the mindless application of grammatical rules.
Consider the following sentence found in a New York Times best seller often cited as an example of poor grammar:
“We found the address he gave me without difficulty”.
Again, what is wrong with this? As I understood it, one person who belongs to a group (we) is stating that they had no difficulty in finding an address that another person gave them. Most readers would read through this without blinking. The "problem" seems to be that "without difficulty" has been placed next to "gave me" instead of "found". Thus you could interpret that the group found an address, which somebody had effortlessly (without difficulty) given to one of them. Sorry, but this interpretation never crossed my mind, I had to really make an effort to see it this way.
I am all for improving our grammar, but there is an inherent danger in taking this to an extreme. The more grammar you learn the more you may demand from others that they exhibit the same level of learning you have. Because of this you may end up finding that the majority of the stories written by normal human beings strike such dissonance in your mind that you cannot bring yourself to read them, and this would be very sad. We should not let learning too much grammar spoil the enjoyment of a good story.