Have you ever stayed up all night scanning your mind trying to figure out what exactly you did with that pair of underpants you bought with the seahorse print? That’s the way I feel about stacked modifiers.
I’ve researched my face off looking for a correct way to hyphenate or splice up or bust down these bad boys without one iota.
Because the truth is, there isn’t a solution.
Before I continue, let me clarify what exactly a stacked modifier is. Basically, if you’ve ever received an e-mail from an engineer or doctor, you’ve seen them before. Here’s an italicized example of a stacked modifier:
We produced a titanium enforced carbonite steel rotary super structure that successfully fends against hurricane-force winds and mother-in-laws.
When I read sentences like that, my brain says, “Whoa. Wait. What?”
And when I have to edit sentences like this, this is when I say, “You know what? The people reading and caring about this stuff aren’t going to give a crap about grammar.” I’m not a snob. It’s just that in my research and personal experience with having a family of engineers, I’ve noted that they all write in caps, and they don’t care about grammar. But sometimes, it bothers me so much that I have to at least try and break apart the sentence.
You could do the following:
We produced a rotary-super structure made out of stacked titanium and enforced-carbonite steel.
I recently had the honor of editing a website for a team of rocket scientists, and the good Lord knows they looooove their stacked modifiers. The trouble is, when you start to break down these highly technical sentences, you lose meaning. And quite often, when you make things understandable to the majority of humans, the rocket scientists no longer understand it and get quite irate. So it’s always best to check with someone in the field of the stacked-modifier obsessed to be sure the sentence doesn’t lose validity.
I could give more examples all day long, but once again, there is no ultimate solution. You must simply rewrite the sentence if you can. If you absolutely cannot, I advise you to do the following:
Take a deep breath.
Turn away from the stacked modifier.
Don’t look back. It hurts too much.
All for now,