If they hadn’t said otherwise, I’d have pronounced it “theta sub zero.”
I think I run into this use mostly in subjects that are somewhat abstruse, such as some mathematics and physics. The sentence is in an article about the atomic structure of magnetism. Go follow the link if you’re interested.
The rule of thumb in writing is that you should put modifiers as close as possible to what they modify. If you don’t, you end up with a sentence that your readers have to figure out. Here’s an example:
The project tells the story of how water shapes the planet using aerial photography to deliver a series of stunning images that sit on the border between abstract art and documentary realism.
Wait! The water uses aerial photography??? That’s what the sentence says. You get a little jolt reading the sentence, don’t you? Here’s what the writer actually means:
The project uses aerial photography to tell the story of how water shapes the planet, delivering a series of stunning images that sit on the border between abstract art and documentary realism.
Both sentences are grammatical, but now the flow is better. A serious intellectual problem to decipher the sentence? No. Most anyone should be able to figure out what the writer means. But here’s the rule:
Bad writing must never be justified with the excuse that the reader will figure it out.
Over the years I’ve mentioned all four of these incorrect rules, both in the classroom and on this blog. Use the search box in the upper right to find several mentions of each bad rule.
What English language rules are incorrect?
Never split an infinitive Never end a sentence with a preposition Never use a double negative The pronouns “them” and “they” are always plural, never singular
I had forgotten the source of these rules. I think he was mentioned once in my sophomore English class. But I have long known that these rules were bad. Anyway, here’s an essay from Quora on the subject. It was written by Franklin Veaux, published author and compulsive writer. Thank you, sir, for the reminder.
All four of these rules were made up by one person, Bishop Robert Lowth.
Lowth was a religious scholar who was obsessed with the “purity” and perfection of Latin. He had a big-time fetish for Latin grammar. He considered Latin the ideal language, and believed that English should be more like Latin.
In 1762, he published a book on English grammar that made up a whole bunch of new rules, including the four above. His sole rationale for many of these rules was simply to try to force English grammar to be closer to Latin grammar.
Those rules had never been part of English until he made them up, and outside of prescriptivist grammar taught in school, they never caught on. Today, English grammar experts have largely abandoned teaching any of them.
What is the subject of “gives the clearer signal of global warming”? Is it surface temperatures or ocean temperatures? Put another way, what does the “therefore” refer to, the “swing greatly” or the “much less variable”?
“Surface temperatures” and “swing greatly” are both closer to the “therefore give,” so that’s what the clause should refer to, right? Nope!
I think the writer of this article, Nicholas Kusnetz, (and maybe his editor) are so familiar with the mechanics of the topic that they assumed the readers would already know that the more stable temperatures are better indicators of change.
They expected the readers to jump over two wrong answers to get to the correct reference, a serious mental jolt. Mental jolts are not good. The sentence should have ended:
… and therefore ocean temperatures give a clearer signal of global warming.
Now the reader can’t get it wrong. And that’s how you should write!
PS—I like to include pictures in this blog when I can, so here’s one from the article. Notice that it describes ocean temps, not air temps.: