Dashed off Quickly

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?

If it ain’t broke…

“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.