And that poor word is broken down in funk.
He held half-baked ideas in
his twice-baked brain.
He’d grab his umbrella when they
shouted, “Make it rain!”
–the umbrella he should have left for a
friend stuck home under the weather.
But his glasses were bent out of shape, and
he was hell-bent for leather
So, he couldn’t find his coat, nor gloves,
nor ass-less chaps.
And, thus, was running better late
than never — perhaps.
He couldn’t afford to miss the boat
that had sailed, my friend.
He needed his job, ’cause a penny
earned was one he’d spend.
When told he was skating on thin ice,
he maxxed out the AC.
All his blessings were disguised too
well for him to see.
He’d thought he was okay when told
he had stiff competition.
–the nuns taught him to fix that with six
Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition.
But they said his co-workers were
really on the ball.
He’d have gotten a Pilates chair,
but was afraid to fall.
When he heard the new guy was up-and-coming,
he got up and left.
He wanted to be thick as thieves so he
went out for a supply closet theft.
listening to the distant approaching train,
and you hear a voice say —
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shove you.”
I predict you would take two steps back before you try to divine meaning.
And when that speaker objects, saying,
“Brother, you misheard me. I said I’m NOT going to shove you in front of the train.”
He’ll not have improved his credibility through clarity of negation,
especially if he gently lays a fraternal hand upon your shoulder.
It’s like being told to not think of a white bear.
An inseparable seed of murder is sewn into those words.
The sentence is the unit of writing at which beauty resides. So, while sentences might not be the sexiest scale of writing, it’s worth learning how to do them well. Stanley Fish offers a book which explores why we should care about the sentence and what separates the good and bad of sentences, before it moves into investigation of various types of sentences.
The first four chapters lay the groundwork by explaining what it is about sentences that make them worth mastering, and then outlines what makes a good sentence (while simultaneously explaining how truly great sentence construction might not come about through the sources and approaches that one has been led to expect.)
Chapters five through ten examine a few different classifications of sentences. Chapters five and six contrast the subordinating style with the additive style. The former sentences are hierarchically arranged, while the latter offers the freer / less ordered approach. Each of the two approaches has its advantages. The former make up many of the pithy bits of wisdom transmitted through sentence, while the latter supports a streaming consciousness style of writing (if done well.)
Chapter seven considers satire by sentence. Chapters nine and ten turn to a different classification scheme: first and last sentences, respectively. Both first and last sentences are disproportionately remembered, and each has a unique role in written works. The final chapter is about sentences that are self-reflective.
Throughout the book, Fish uses sentences – some famous and others from famous works – to offer the reader exemplars of the craft. The general approach is a good deal less technical and more reflective than most books on the subject. This makes Fish’s book both more readable, but also more contentious (in as much as a discussion of sentences can be contentious) than related works.
I’d recommend this book for writers and those interested in crafting language.
Coming out: October 22, 2019
This children’s book shows kids what can go awry for want of properly placed punctuation. Lynne Truss’s popular and humorous grammar guide has spun off a cottage industry of books designed to shift perception of grammar studies from brutally dull to witty and fun.
The book is simple and easy to use. Throughout most of the book, each page consists of two pictures, each captioned with a sentence that describes said picture. The captioning sentences consist of the same words in the same order, but differently punctuated. Often, one of the plates is punctuated to make a perfectly logical picture; whereas, the other is absurd. However, other times both meanings are reasonable, but substantially different. Some of the sentences are grammatical oldies but goodies (e.g. “Eat here and get gas.”) but most are more original. There are a few pages upon which a larger multi-part picture is drawn with three or four captions.
The book’s only other feature is a sentence that explains the difference between the captions. Said sentence is written upside-down in small print below each plate, and is presumably a cheat code for parents who haven’t brushed up on “Strunk & White” in a while. Besides missing Oxford commas (i.e. the titular problem,) the book demonstrates miscommunications based on missing or misplaced apostrophes, semi-colons, parentheses, and exclamation marks.
The only surprise was finding “dog’s” used as a contraction for “dog is.” I was under the impression that that apostrophization could only be a possessive (i.e. “dog’s bone” is a bone that belongs to a dog) and only specified pronouns got apostrophe-“s” as a contraction. Don’t get me wrong, I employ such contractions all the time in poetry — mostly to preserve meter — but poets love to infuriate grammarians.
Though it’s intended for kids, I enjoyed reading this book, and found it to be a nice review of punctuation that didn’t require getting too cerebral. I’d recommend it for parents, and for those who want to hit the highlights of punctuation in less than a half an hour (it’s only about 30 pages.)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Painted Word is a collection of interesting words with definitions, insight into each word’s origins and evolution, and interesting or humorous usages. These aren’t all GRE words (massive and mostly useless words that have little value beyond impressing admissions committees.) Many of the words will be familiar to readers without huge vocabularies. On the other hand, there will be words that are new to even New York Times crossword puzzle solvers.
As the title suggests, there’s a little bit of an art-related theme. However, I’m not sure I would have noticed this if it hadn’t been for the title. There are a number of colors included among the words—colors known mostly to interior decorators and not to most heterosexual men. There are also a few artistic styles (e.g. intimism.) However, the bulk of the words aren’t clearly related to the fine arts. Many of the entries are loan words, i.e. words that have been used in English literature or other English-language media but which are of foreign origin.
I’ll include a few of the words that captured my own interest:
Autologophagist: one who eats his / her own words
Bafflegab: language that misleads—intentionally or not
Cataphile: a lover of catacomb crawling
Inkhorn: an over-intellectualized word
Lambent: shining with soft light on the surface of something
Millihelen: the amount of beauty that would result in the launch of a single ship.
Monogashi [Japanese]: the sigh or sadness of things
Sonicky: A great sounding word—coined by Roy Blount Jr.
Phlug: belly-button lint
Snollygoster: a shrewd but corrupt politician
Ubantu [Bantu / Xhosa]: the interconnectedness of all things
This book is full of fun insights and statements. I learned that “hush puppies” were literally carried to throw to noisy dogs to get them to stop barking. There are many interesting and humorous quotes. For example, Brendan Behan said, “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.” Brief vignettes are used to help give depth of understanding to words. One such story is about a Luddite looking upon the operation of a steam shovel who said to his friend, “Were it not for that steam shovel, there would be work for hundreds of men with shovels…” to which his friend replied, “or thousands of men with teaspoons.”
I enjoyed this book. You don’t have to be fascinated by the minutiae of semantics to find it readable and interesting. It’s not as much like reading a dictionary as one might suspect.
I finished The Painted Word this week. This book is a collection of words that the author finds noteworthy and intriguing as well as the definitions, origins, and interesting usages. There’s a loose theme of art (as the title might suggest), but it’s not particularly blatant and one might miss it if there weren’t quite a so many names of colors that probably didn’t appear in your Crayon box. There are also painting plates used as the books only graphics. Many of the words are one’s that will be well-known to the average reader, but others might be new additions to one’s vocabulary such as: bafflegab (misleading language), farteur (a professional and/or musical farter), and gymnophoria (the uneasy feeling that someone is undressing one with their eyes.)
I purchase a few new books this week, including: The Stationary Ark (a book by Gerald Durrell about running a zoo), Submission (a Story of O-style tell-all / novel by another Parisian woman), Dodger by Terry Pratchett (Pratchett recently passed away. I’ve only read one of his books to date [the first disc world book], but enjoyed it more than any fantasy book I’ve ever read [not my favorite genre.] This one is apparently Dickensian.), and 100 Films to See before you Die (The nice thing about this one is that it’s written by Anupama Chopra for the Times of India, and–therefore–features not only Indian [Bollywood and other] and Hollywood films but also other global films. I suspect that if I got the same book by an American author it would be 98 to 100% Hollywood–i.e. with maybe a couple French films thrown in if it was a particularly pretentious American film critic.)
The only book that I spent significant time on that I haven’t mentioned in past Reading Reports was Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction. I read about half of this book a while back, before I got distracted by other readings (in truth, I got burned out on writing books.) However, I’ll now try to plow through this to the end, as well as a few of the other writing books that I’m pretty far into. It’s really a good book on the elements of fiction writing.
Besides those, I’ve been reading a book, Yoga Education for Children, Vol. 1, that I introduced last week. It’s the text for the yoga teacher training that I’m currently attending (RCYT). I’m about 2/3rds of the way through it.
If you’ve ever had someone tell you that any water can be put in a pot (for pronouncing drinking water pot-table rather that po-table), then you may be with me here. If you frequently exercise your perogative, rather than your prerogative, you may agree. Have you had sherbert, or only sherbet? Do both your eggs and oxen have yokes?
If you’re not with me, you –my friend– might be the person on the right in my little stick cartoon.
I’m as anal about language as the next writer, but let’s try to dial down the pretentiousness. The big question I have for pronunciation police is this: What in your experience with the English language has led you to believe it is a phonetic language?
For those who think English is phonetic because they learned it via “Phonics,” let me expose you to a poem that says it more eloquently than I ever could. (I would attribute the poem, but it is to my knowledge owed to that most prolific “Anonymous” chap.)
Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners
I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead-it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up–and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward.
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five!
If you still don’t believe that the language can handle multiple pronunciations, check out what the experts say.