Monday, October 18, 2010

It All Depends on How You Look at It

In Bill Bryson's new book, At Home, a significant section is devoted to a largely anecdotal history of architecture, including a brief profile of the celebrated 18-century architect, Robert Adam.

After we read about Adam's personal failings and his loathsome treatment of his employees, we come to this curiously ambiguous sentence:
Adam's clients, however, venerated his abilities and for thirty years simply could not give him enough work. 
 From the context, it seems clear that Adam's clients gave him plenty of work, but the phrasing "simply could not give him enough work" lends itself to an utterly different interpretation.
This reminds me of a more intentionally ambiguous statement, usually attributed to the critic Moses Hadas, purportedly in response to an author who had sent him an unsolicited manuscript for his review. "Thank you for sending me your book," Hadas wrote. "I'll waste no time reading it."