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January 28, 2009

HONORABLE MENTION 1: Do You Know A Cunning Linguist? Or, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.

By Michael Paul Maupin

>This is a boring sentence.< Let me tell you why. Adverb + verb + indefinite article + adjective + direct object. Oh, God, I’m not reading this. That’s alright, my feelings aren’t hurt. Go back to your iPod, your PlayStation, your SpongeBob SquarePants (all of which are typed in what is known as CamelCase) because there is nothing for you to learn here. The people who value the written word will stay with me. They’re people who care. They’re my kind of people. aNd I dOn’T hAvE tO TyPe LiKe ThIs To GeT tHeIr AtTenTiOn. In fact, they abhor you and your bastardization of the English language. By the way, Ferdinand de Saussure called, he said to take your Kindle and go to hell.

I was told once that I should never start a sentence with an “and,” “but,” or “or.” When I asked why, the girl who chided me said her education professor told her it was bad form. I suddenly felt sorry for the trio and their counterparts “for,” “so,” and “yet.” And I wondered why someone would tell an undergrad English student those specific six words were terrible sentence starters. But there’s really no reason to wonder; it’s like people who try to use a semicolon without knowing why to use it over a comma or a colon. Or it’s like someone who argues that every word after a colon should be capitalized. For most of these people don’t realize that a colon is just a continuation of a sentence, and, unless there’s a proper noun after the colon, the lowercase is preferred. So colleges just keep on turning out students that believe a conjunction can’t function as a sentence opener. Yet, no one knows the answer why; it’s just something some students are trained not to do. Coordinating conjunctions have so much potential.

Subjunctive or conjunctive? Both “and” and “neither” either need to be retaught with “either” and “nor,” or we need to reintroduce phonics back into grade school curricula to relearn the language — something students nor parents ever want to see happen. But also it’s probably the best way to relearn how to use “but also” or just “but” and “also” in a sentence.

And just when we think we might have that problem solved, there’s also that question of which word to use, “that” or “which.”

One thing that** people do that* would really help them to sound clearer when they write is to cut down on how many times they use the word “that” in a sentence. I used to try to explain to people that** “that” is a restrictive modifier that** you only have to use when “that” can be replaced with the word “which,” a word that (which) helps to explain a difference between comparing objects between one another. “I had to buy a car this morning: either the one that (which) I saw yesterday at Phil’s car lot, or the one that (which) I saw last week at David’s car lot. The one that (which) I saw last week was red. I like a red car better.” But some linguists would argue with me that* that** is poor advice. Some would say that** “that” is more complicated than switching “that” with “which.” They might also say that** “which” usage depends on whether an object is a person or a thing. And I agree that** they are making a valid point. I just believe some people don’t realize that** they overuse “that” and that** they can clean up their writing to make more sense if they take the extra thats out and think about how it is that** they use “that.” Does that* make sense? Apparently not if you think of “that” as a demonstrative pronoun*, or if you follow the school of thought that** “that” is a complimentizer**, albeit one that (which) isn’t a necessity, but there will always be those who find it necessarily necessary.

Another problem I sea a lot of is people who get confused with sound-alike words, or homophones. They can bee tricky, especially in this day and age of spell checkers. Computer word processing programs often can’t discriminate between one word that wood be wrong grammatically because it is the homophone of the correct word. And no one goes back and proof reads any thing any more. If a squiggly line does not magically a peer under what they are typing, than they have no idea their is a problem. This includes compound words many people accidently split up when they are in a hurry and don’t notice until it is to late. It can happen to any body.

A man may feel the call to minister, and part of his job might be to administer the sacrament of communion. He has to both attain a theology degree without waiver, and then obtain a box of unleavened wafers. During his study some people might be allusive when speaking of his desire to dance, calling him immoral. Depending on the denomination he’ll function within, dancing might be seen as amoral. The true test is if he can be elusive and never caught, principally if the core ideal is against the denominational corps beliefs. Otherwise, he might appear as an illusion after he’s turned into a corpse. It’s a scary anecdote, but there’s no antidote to death. The minister’s progeny might fill his shoes, but only if he’s a prodigy and someone takes him under their wing as a protégé. The minister’s son might have a voracious spirit for learning, but it’s not that he’ll come to naught if he has a veracious spirit for his calling. If the son’s paramount concern isn’t becoming more than tantamount in relation to the behaviors that quelled his old man, he might make good use of a quill to write a letter to his mother and say goodbye. He should also pray he doesn’t become prey of the same fate of his father’s faith. It would be a rational rationale seeing as how the father had no insight concerning the dos and don’ts of his church structure, which, as we have read, caused him to incite his own undoing, possibly by throat stricture.

Sorry for the digression, but it is within an author’s discretion to spout an incredible amount of incredulous feelings when people butcher homophones.

The best thing about the English language is that it’s alive. There’s a term in linguistics called derivation that serves as proof English is forever changing within the society speaking it. Children, and many creative adults, use derivation every day. Verbs turn into adjectives and nouns by a simple addition of an -able or an -ance: a kite is “fliable” on a windy day; two people who come to a common end enter into an “agreeance.” Nouns turn into verbs and adjectives with an -fy and an -al:  You “happify” someone by sending them a birthday card; something might make you laugh if it causes “amusal.” And adjectives become nouns and verbs with the addition of an -ness or an -ise. Breathe in the “stinkiness” of a diaper; hear the way a student might “murderise” the French language. With derivation, it’s no wonder that ESL (English as a second language) students often get lost in colloquial jargon.

I think the greatest example of the flexibility of the English language comes from the increasing propensity for the younger generations to become bored having to type out big, long words like “because” (bc) and clunky phrases such as “see you later” (c u l8tr). Text and instant messaging has reduced the English language to nonsensical abbreviations that anyone over the age of 25 struggles to comprehend.

der wz 1s a tym wen d en lang wz proper, almst poetic n its unabbrevi8d 4m writrs such as Chaucer, Milton, n Shakespeare (@_@) ppl W d beauty of their poetry n prose bt now, d King James Version of d bble S EZer 2 undRst& thN d bulk of d txt msgs wafting thru d air arnd us, alw searchN 4t recipient of d modrn dy Morse cod It sEmz lk jst yday wen ppl wd go 2 a bookstore n rummage thru shelvs 4 hrs on Nd, searchN 4 somit 2 read dey had nvr hurd of B4 enterN d stoR. Now ppl jst Google-search a keyword n d/l w@ uzd 2B a cumbersome hardback on a mini-disk n digital 4mat 2 dis dy, door-2-door cyclopedia salesppl r stil rejoicing ovr d modrn fings of convenience.

William Faulkner begat Cormac McCarthy. John Milton begat Phillip Pullman. James Joyce begat Joyce Carol Oats. And binary code begat text messaging. There will come a day when the most muscular part of a human’s anatomy is the tips of their fingers. Opposable thumbs, you have never failed us!

And as a writer, I look around at my craggy-paged, yellowing books; my very local, hardly-known-of last name and meager accolades; and my mounting debt of college loans that cause moments of unadulterated anxiety and think, Is a degree in English relative anymore? Then I look over my shoulder at the names I have amassed in my “to be read” bookcase waiting patiently for my attention: David Sedaris, Percival Everett, Kerouac, Heller, copies of Faulkner and Wolfe, and the insanely amazing Mark Z. Danielewski, and I think:

         01010111 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 00100000 00111000 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01100101 01101110 01110011 00100000 01110111 01101000 01100101 01101110 00100000 00110001 00100000 01110100 01100101 01100011 01101000 01101110 01101111 01101100 01101111 01100111 01111001 00100000 00110010 00100000 01101001 01101110 01100101 01110110 01101001 01110100 01100001 01100010 01101100 01111001 00100000 01100110 01100001 01101001 01101100 01110011 00111111 00100000 01010111 01101000 01101111 00100000 00110010 00100000 01110111 01101001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101 00100000 00110111 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100011 01101111 01110010 01100100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 00110110 00100000 01110100 01100001 01101100 01100101 01110011 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110011 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 00110010 00100000 01100100 01101001 01100111 01101001 01110100 01100001 01101100 00100000 01100001 01100010 01111001 01110011 01110011 00111111 00100000 01001001 00100000 00110111 00100000 01110111 01100001 01101110 01110100 00100000 01101001 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 00110011 00100000 01101101 01100101 00101110 00100000

If you feel the same, then you know what to do.