Where to keep your pubic hair

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The worst choice of preposition-phrase modifier placement anywhere in the world last week was probably the one at the E! online page. The headline read as follows:

Cameron Diaz Encourages Women to Keep Their Pubic Hair in Her New Book

Women of the world, listen to Language Log: stop keeping locks of your pubic hair pressed between the pages of Diaz's book. This whole craze is the result of a misunderstanding that should have been foreseeable. It is quite the opposite of what Ms. Diaz intended. The only fortunate thing about the incident is that it really does illustrate and underline the importance of syntax.

Ms Diaz's cumbersomely titled new book is The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body. It actually advises women not to shear or shave their pubic areas at all.

Preposition-phrase modifier preposing would have been the ideal way to forestall the crash blossom in the E! headline:

In her new book Cameron Diaz encourages women to keep their pubic hair

The post-subject position is also available for interpolated locational clause modifiers, though it does call for commas:

Cameron Diaz, in her new book, encourages women to keep their pubic hair

One way to get rid of the commas would be to attribute the recommendation to the book rather than to Diaz herself:

Cameron Diaz's new book encourages women to keep their pubic hair

If you don't like the look of "Diaz's", then using a by-phrase to express the authorship (interpreted very much like a passive by-phrase) would work too:

New book by Cameron Diaz encourages women to keep their pubic hair

The point is that English syntax provides you with many ways to phrase things, and many options for ensuring that you don't puzzle your readers.

However, preposition-phrase modifiers are dangerous. They should be used only as directed. Inexpert writers should use them only under supervision. Keep them away from children.

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