This grammatical lapse in Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times last week brings Mrs. Malaprop to mind (“… she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying”).
What she meant, of course, was neck and neck, like horses at a track or ostriches on the way to wherever ostriches go in a hurry.
Neck in neck conjures up all sorts of bizarre imagery.
For instance, how could two people ever get neck in neck? And if those two people were Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, what would that say about American politics? And if they were truly neck in neck, who was in whose neck? And how would you extract them? And what was Maureen Dowd thinking when she wrote neck in neck in the first place. (She wasn’t.)
I have a single answer to all of those questions: good editing.
Good editing removes stupid phrases like neck in neck from copy and lets everyone focus on the intended meaning rather than the unintended comical asides into the anatomically impossible.
Hug an editor; save a columnist – and maybe even a president.