Friday, July 01, 2011

logophile

Listen, I know this is keeping you awake nights, so I'll just tell you:  I'm completely in favor of the serial comma.  Also known as the Oxford comma, a bit of grammar trivia I just learned tonight while reading this blog post.  That's the way I learned it in sixth grade from Mrs. Burton, along with how to diagram a sentence, and that's the way it should be.  I'm knocking on the door of fifty, and I've decided that I am now officially entrenched in my opinions.  (For those of you who couldn't care less about commas, a serial comma is the one that appears before the "and" in a list:  four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.  There are many who insist you should write four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.  Which is Wrong.  Just sayin'.) (actually, if you couldn't care less about commas, you probably didn't want to know that.)

MadMax had to learn to diagram sentences this year.  He thought it was the biggest waste of time ever.  Ever? I said.  Because coming from a kid who would spend hours a day playing Facebook games if we let him, this seems a bit rich.  I only have vague memories of diagramming sentences, and I probably couldn't do it now if you held a gun to my head.  But I kind of liked it at the time.

But I'm a language nut, so my opinion may be way out on the far end of the bell curve on this one.  It continually astonishes me that we can look at black marks on a sheet of paper and enter into an entire other world-- maybe a world that resembles our own, maybe one that is as different as can be.  (I read an Andr√© Norton novel once when I was MadMax's age that took place on a planet inhabited by intelligent cats.  very cool.)

Which is not to say I have exemplary grammar.  I'm fascinated by grammar, but I don't always remember it.   And I spent many of my formative years in East Texas, where highbrow phrases like "I might could help you" and "Can you carry me to the mall?" abound.  But there are certain grammar rules that I choose to enforce strictly-- "Me and Dylan are having a sleepover" is not acceptable at our house; and if someone asks me, "How are you doing?" I cannot say "Good," even though I don't notice it when someone else says it, and it's perfectly acceptable now, anyway.

I think that might be what I love about being a literature student.  Language astonishes me, words amaze me-- the things you can do with words, the effects you can create, the artistry of a beautifully written sentence, the surprise of an unexpected word.  Euglena. Parsimonious. Dapper. Hermaphrodite. Unintelligible. Balmy. Redolent.  Unguent.  ha-- while thinking up cool words to put in this paragraph, I ended up at the Merriam Webster website and got lost for twenty minutes reading lists of words.

Which is why I do think there is such a thing as literary art, an idea that is becoming pass√© in academic circles.  Don't get me started.  It's too late tonight. 

I've acquired two mosquito bites while sitting here.  I think we need a new screen door.  Do you have a favorite word(s)?  Not because of what the word means, but because of how the word sounds, or the way it looks on the page, or the effect it produces.  I had a friend once who loved b-z words:  bizarre, Byzantine, Bismarck, abysmal.  Maybe mine is undulating

6 comments:

  1. Ohgawd we were separated at birth! I am exactly the same way, and I believe Hanna tweeted this article too. (I didn't know that comma had its own name, but it is the correct usage, as far as I'm concerned.)

    Some of my favorites are places, Pea Patch Island (which actually has some very dismal history), and Coeur D'alene (which is sadly located in a state that I actively avoid) plus... exquisite (which is just fun to say, and ya know, it's also super cool as a description).
    Julie

    ReplyDelete
  2. why do you avoid C d'A? I drive though there on my way to Spokane or Seattle at least half a dozen times a year, but I don't think I've ever stopped-- maybe to get gas.

    Yes, one more thing we have in common! I hadn't thought of place names-- like Schenectady, or Cesky Krumlov (Chess-key Kroom-loff), or the Jewel Basin-- which is not far from here and pretty much lives up to its name. And all those places near Seattle-- Sammammish, Snohomish, Issaquah. Good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Because I have an unreasonable dislike of Idaho in general.

    Dan's favorite is Nut Sack, up near Bellingham. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I bet you ladies don't have a town called Possum Trot like we do here. And here they say "Can I pack you to the mall?"

    I actually learned the other way. No comma before the and. It's not of any importance to me, though.

    I love words. My bettyverse contribution is called 'Ten Dollar Words' and is all about words I find in novels. Don't know when it will run.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It just does not look correct if I do not type the comma after a string of things and before the "and" connecting everything together. My mother would correct our grammar so I have my mother's voice in my head should I inadvertently use an incorrect word. One of my favourite words is "resolute" as used in the short story The Careful Man or perhaps, it was the narrator's voice.

    I looked at your door photos again, the blue door is particularily beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm with you Carol, but my daughter agrees with Judy. I told her about this post (she has the address, but doesn't check it very often), and she said she thinks it just looks wrong with the comma. Which is exactly what I said except "without" the comma. I guess it's just what you're used to. (which is a dangling preposition, but it would tangle that sentence up to rephrase it so I'm leaving it.)

    Judy, I wish we did have a town called Possum Trot. That sounds like something out of a chick lit novel!

    ReplyDelete