Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You'll put your eye out!

When I was in tenth grade, my grandmother sold her house and moved into a condo. My mother received a lot of random stuff that had been in that house, including a pile of phonograph records. Most of these records belonged to my mom, but a few belonged to my aunt, and a few neither of them wanted to claim. My mom also got some high school artwork, reel-to-reels of family members' musical debuts, paperback books, hippie jewelry, and the Steinway parlor grand. All of these were very interesting to me, but most of all I was impressed by the Simon and Garfunkel LP's.

I already knew all the Greatest Hits by heart, but my G-d, this was a lot of Simon and Garfunkel! I decided that my favorite song was no longer "Cecilia," but rather a tie between "Patterns" and "A Poem on the Underground Wall." I made myself a mix tape which started with "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha," progressed to "Double Talking Helix Blues" (a geek anthem by my mom's homeboys Joel and Ira Hershkowitz), settled into a slew of classic S&G songs, changed direction with some tunes by the Vienna Boys' Choir, and finished with some Smothers Brothers skits.

I made a similar mix tape for the girl who would, eleven years later, be my wife. We spent a long time trying to parse the second verse of "Patterns":

Up a narrow flight of stairs
In a narrow little room,
As I lie upon my bed
In the early evening gloom,
Impaled on my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me.

At first I had this awful image in my head of eyeballs on skewers. I still have this awful image in my head of eyeballs on skewers. I realize, of course, that (1) the ABCB rhyme scheme is a harsh master and (2) 'twas not eyeballs on the wall, but some embodiment of hopelessness. Still, I can't imagine that eyeballs on skewers could see anything brightly. And still, there is no good way to arrange these four lines, for the following brings up images of whole bodies on skewers:

My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me
Impaled on my wall

I am reviewing a book. I hope I have a pre-press edition of this book, because the tables are so poorly formatted that I would really like to impale the pages on my wall. And this book, which shall remain nameless for the privacy of all parties involved, ends with short bios of all its contributors. These bios are of varying cohesiveness and grammatical correctness--very much like the chapters of this book. I read the bios last night while taking a break from the actual content of the book, and I was struck by the utter crappiness of these sentences.

Now, I get upset when professional authors use since to mean because, while to mean although, and the reason why instead of the reason that. I am fully aware that I swap since for because and while for although all the time in casual conversation. But I wouldn't do it in a publication. APA style strictly forbids stuff like this. So I guess it's not really surprising that I would be upset by crappy sentence construction in a professional book.

I should provide operational definitions of crappy and non-crappy sentences.

This is a crappy sentence:
Yesterday Jenny ate, slept, and played with her dog.

because as written it means this:
Yesterday Jenny ate with her dog, slept with her dog, and played with her dog.

These are not crappy sentences:
1. Yesterday Jenny ate ice cream with her brother, slept on the couch with her girlfriend, and played with her dog.
2. Yesterday Jenny played with her dog, ate, and slept.

Sometimes sentences appear quite nice at first, but upon inspection they reveal their crappiness:
Gillian has written blog entries on grammar, bureaucracy, and her disappearing butt.

My butt's not the Internet, honey. For one thing, the Internet is getting bigger every day. I do, however, write about grammar, bureaucracy, and my disappearing butt, though thankfully not all in the same entry.


I leave you with two final thoughts:

1) The sentence that inspired this entry goes like this:
I have published around cervical cancer prevention, heterosex, the vagina, and heterosexism.

I have small handwriting, but damn!!!!

2) My aforementioned grandmother is a retired editor. She says it's genetic.

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