I dreamed of Africa…
I don’t have a ton to add to this great Grammar Girl post about parentheses vs. dashes vs. ellipses– (…?) only that I used to be profligate with parentheses and am not anymore, aside from emoticons which I should probably grow the hell up and stop using.
No, I like dashes now when I want to slam the brakes on a train of thought, throw another little one down, and then pick the first one back up. And only when I read GG’s article just now did I realize why I made the transition from quieter parentheses to loud, dramatic dashes…
Because that’s how my brain was changing. Thanks to the increasing role of the internet in my life twelve-odd years ago, interruptions became the rule of law in my brain–and as the linked article (which you should go read now) explains, dashes communicate interruption like a champ.
So I wonder as all our minds become ever more interrupted, will the parentheses survive? Will quiet, gentle interruptions become a thing of the analog past?
“1. (Also to fix up.) To prepare (food or drink.) You must fix me a drink, Fanny Trollope said in her Domestic Manners of the Americans (1839); and Bret Harte, an American writer, in a work of 1891, wrote Mother’ll fix you suthin’ hot. The use is familiar in BrE, but when used is still regarded as a conscious Americansm.”
-Fowler’s Modern English Usage
I’ve always found it irritating when fix is used to describe the preparation of food or drink. I wonder why. I suppose it’s just a completely superfluous use of a word that works really hard and really effectively throughout the rest of the language.
Why make it work overtime where its services aren’t even needed? To describe the various actions you take to turn a bunch of ingredients into a bouillabaisse or gin fizz, make is fine… dare I say better, with its connotations of creating.
Yet fix sticks around. And no one is the worse for it, so I ultimately file this away as a usage pet peeve that I have no grounds for proselytizing about.
I am curious about the geographical distribution of fixing things that end up in someone’s mouth. The Fowler’s entry suggests it’s America-wide, citing uses by Norman Mailer and Bret Harte (who is Californian as far as his writing is concerned, and I had to Google to be sure he was a different person from “The Hitman”).
And also southerner Eudora Welty, which aligns with my idea of where the word is used this way–thinking of my good buddy from the south who has fixed me a cocktail or two over the years, and they’ve all tasted good, which I guess is all that matters.
Something that evokes Christopher Marlowe is “Marlovian.”
Something that evokes Saul Bellow is “Bellovian.”
Something that evokes George Bernard Shaw is “Shavian.” (That one is great.)
Something that evokes Edgar Allen Poe, is, I guess, “Poevian.”
These are kind of funny, right? Or at least peculiar. They remind us that words will never just exist on a page, because while there’s nothing inherently weird about reading “Shawian” or “Poeian,” there certainly is something weird about saying them.
If you are part of the iPad set, please use it to grab this free download of Honest Cooking’s inaugural feature-length magazine and check out my article on dining at a North Korean restaurant. It may or may not be viewable on other platforms.
“(Theodore) Dreiser in some ways, some of the time, is one of the worst writers who ever lived. An American Tragedy, for instance, is an endless book with terrible sentences like ‘He found her extremely intellectually interesting.’”
-John Gardner, quoted in The Writer’s Chapbook, ed. George Plimpton
For all the times John Gardner’s acerbic proto-snark bothered me in college, it was nice to have some validation that I was not out of my mind when I found Theodore Dreiser’s writing to be horrible.
I clawed through An American Tragedy in an elective 20th Century American Lit course in my final semester, mind fully blown that such a poor stylist was still required reading. I looked quickly through Sister Carrie and found the same shit. He wasn’t funny! He wasn’t clever! Reading his clodhopper sentences felt nauseously like riding in the backseat with a student driver at the wheel.
Nothing like cruising through say, The Great Gatsby in the same class.
Hey, let’s see what John Gardner has to say about that!
“Fitzgerald is a good example–a fine stylist. But he never quite got to the heart of things.”
I’m not going to touch the substance of this, the thing about the heart of things, but those are some fighting words. Granted, Gardner was the dean of haters in American letters so on some level it’s just part of his schtick to be such a bastard. Like those restaurants where they’re famous for being mean to patrons–which, like Gardner, are trading more on the attitude than the quality of what they’re serving.
Anyway, I appreciate this for drawing the line between content and style in any writing, especially having eventually seen that I was not “getting” Dreiser at the time, not seeing that he was saying important and true things. (I think Fitzgerald was too, but whatever). And this ends up being Gardner’s point:
”What (Dreiser) does morally, that is to say what he does in terms of analysis of character and honest statement about the way the world is, is very good.”
So I’m only mentioning this here because this content/style tension is in all kinds of writing. You can always have one without the other. Ideally you get both but if you have to pick one you pick content. Otherwise the writer has had a little fun, but ultimately has wasted everyone’s time.
“5.31 It is fairly common in English for nouns to pass into use as verbs; it always has been.”
-The Chicago Manual of Style
Maybe, but it’s also fairly annoying. This occurs to me as the holidays loom and I resolve that if anyone “gifts” me anything next month I’m going to spit eggnog in their face.
In fairness, it’s subjective which noun-to-verb functional variations work and which don’t. Yes, I Google and friend like any red-blooded American who wastes too much time online, and I don’t think twice about handing you the rake so you can rake the toilet paper those little punks rolled our house with.
A good article in More Intelligent Life presents this fun factoid:
“Some lovers of the language deplore the whole business of verbing (Benjamin Franklin called it “awkward and abominable” in a letter to Noah Webster, the lexicographer, in 1789). . .”
If he wasn’t a fan of this sort of manipulation, I wonder how the elder statesman would have reacted to Philadelphia’s “Benergy” fiasco. I digress…
What do you think separates a good noun-verb functional variation from a ridiculous one?
Please take a look at the continuing serial fiction on my other blog, Double Decanted.
“Alexi Halavazis, 25, also of Herndon, Va., cast his first presidential vote for Obama. He said the reason was Obama’s health care law, which allows him to be covered by his parents’ medical coverage. With ‘Obamacare. I can stay on my parents plant (sic), at least for another year, and it helps my parents because of the pre-existing conditions’ requirement that they cannot be denied health care, Halavazis said.’”
Isn’t it weird how that quotation from Alexi Halavazis beginning “Obamacare” is presented up there? I’m not implying anything was taken out of context or otherwise fudged by the reporters (two names are in the article’s byline), but what an awkward way of making it flow with the rest of the narrative.
I presume the reporters asked Mr. Halavazis some version of “Why did you vote for Obama?” and his response was “Obamacare. I can stay…”. But then , by summarizing the quote before actually presenting it, they put themselves in the situation of needing to make the quote a prepositional phrase.
Is there a better-written alternative to what ended up getting published? These come to mind:
Anyway, it’s a quickie article on the biggest content-barrage evening in America. Let’s enjoy our election night parties and not split too many hairs.
On the other hand, gotta love their typo about staying on his “parent’s plant”.