November 2, 2005


GOP Angered by Closed Senate Session (Charles Babington and Dafna Linzer, 11/02/05, Washington Post)

Plans to bring in electronic-bug-sniffing dogs were dropped when it became clear that senators would trade barbs but discuss no classified information.

They have their own electronic dogs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 2, 2005 8:05 AM

Forget Goddard - which GOP Senator was going to pat down Mary Landreiu? Conversely, who would pat down Barbara Mikulski?

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 2, 2005 8:17 AM

Here's Sony's AIBO, the robotic dog. I'm not sure if this model has a bug sniffer on it, or if it can even say "Woof, woof. I'm Rags" like Woody Allen's dog in ""Sleeper" (of course, if our civilzation was that aadvanced today, Sen. Kennedy would already have a Orgasmatron set up in the Senate chamber).

Posted by: John at November 2, 2005 8:55 AM

"They have their own electronic dogs?"

Believe me, I like calling out misplaced modifiers as much as the next pedant. But the excerpted Washington Post sentence is immune to attack on that front. "Electronic-bug-sniffing dogs" is a compound modifier, as indicated by the hyphens. Those hyphens are used to eliminate the very sort of ambiguity you're pretending leads to an interpretation of "electronic dogs."

Had the phrase read, "electronic bug-sniffing dogs," you'd have a point.

Posted by: SP at November 2, 2005 11:48 AM

Nice Jimmy Neutron reference. Sweet.

Posted by: flanman at November 2, 2005 12:24 PM

It should have read Electronic-bug sniffing dogs to be less ambiguous.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 2, 2005 3:00 PM

How can dogs smell electronics? Do electrical devices made of metal and/or plastic smell enough for dogs to pick up a scent? Is it the electric itself that has a scent?

Just curious. I've never heard of such creatures.

Posted by: Bob at November 2, 2005 3:26 PM

"It should have read Electronic-bug sniffing dogs to be less ambiguous."

That wouldn't make it less ambiguous. It would, in fact, add ambiguity. Compound modifiers follow a standard blueprint; a construction that fails to follow that blueprint doesn't look like a compound modifier, and thus introduces potential confusion for the reader.

Here, the author is writing about dogs who can sniff out bugs that are electronic. It is not enough to say they are "sniffing" dogs, because all dogs sniff. It is not enough to say they are "bug-sniffing" dogs, because there are all sorts of different bugs in the world.

And so these are "electronic-bug-sniffing" dogs. I'm not sure why you think there's anything ambiguous about that.

Grammar rules don't exist so that people like me get to play language nanny and write long, goofy responses to some offhanded quip by a blogger. They exist to ensure efficient communication. And one of those rules is that the elements in a compound modifier must be connected by hyphens (minus certain defined exceptions).

Posted by: SP at November 2, 2005 5:04 PM

Not all dogs are used for sniffing, so these are indeed sniffing-dogs. They sniff out electronic-bugs.

Posted by: oj at November 2, 2005 5:30 PM

My dog isn't used for sniffing, but he does sniff, and thus is a "sniffing dog." Just as you and I are, say, "breathing humans." Redundant and even clumsy descriptions, but not inaccurate.

Now, these particular D.C. dogs can sniff out electronic bugs (no hyphen). And so they are electronic-bug-sniffing dogs. If you and I had weird lungs that could turn saltwater into oxygen, we'd be ocean-water-breathing humans.

Posted by: SP at November 2, 2005 6:29 PM

As you quite rightly point out. You have a dog that sniffs, not a sniffing-dog.

Posted by: oj at November 2, 2005 6:37 PM

What kind of dog is going to sniff Barbara Mikulski?

Posted by: ratbert at November 2, 2005 7:17 PM