Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Dick Cheney Award for Freestyle Hunting

Here's another of those tragic "hunter mistakes other hunter for a deer" stories you hear about too often. The Canwest story out of Alberta includes these lines:

"He fired one shot," Sylvan Lake RCMP Sgt. Duncan Babchuk said Monday. "He saw movement and fired a second shot. This time he heard a very strange noise and he realized something was wrong, and he ran to the scene and found his hunting partner with a gunshot to the abdomen."

Babchuk said the shooter called 911 and conducted first aid on his partner until the paramedics arrived. He died at the scene.
Wait a minute. Who died at the scene? I know it's easy to figure out from the context, but I came flying around the corner toward that last sentence at a pretty good clip, and the pronoun/antecedent confusion really jammed a stick in my spokes. The shooter was the subject of the main clause in the preceding sentence, so I assumed for a moment that he was the "He" leading off as the subject of the final sentence. (A case could even be made that "He" refers to Sgt. Babchuk, who perhaps died at the scene when delivering this statement.) A minor mix-up, but a telling example of how an ambiguous antecedent can throw a reader off course, if only momentarily.

By the way, at the risk of sounding grotesquely insensitive, I have to say that this story reminds me of a joke. The world's funniest joke, in fact, according to an actual university professor who conducted a study to identify and crown said joke, while his colleagues were off smashing atoms and finding cures for fatal diseases.

The joke, according to the Wikipedia entry about the study, goes like this:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says, "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, "OK, now what?"