Tag Archives: grammar

Best. Sentence. Ever. (Lately.)

14 Apr

david duchovny image

Sometimes a sentence can change your life.  Whether from someone you admire, or a Texan, hearing the right words at the right time can make a difference.  Like the first time your mom said “Don’t stick that fork in the outlet” or “Don’t stick that fork in the toaster” or “What’s with you kids and forks?”

And then there are fragments.  Fragments are bits of a sentence that, when deftly used, can enhance a paragraph or improve a joke.  For example, the sentence “David Duchovny is a beloved television, stage, and screen actor, as well as a screenwriter and director” from the jacket of his book titled “Holy Cow” (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) would work better if followed by fragments like: “For real.”  or “No joke… “beloved.””

The problem with fragments is that they can also ruin things.  Things that were just fine until someone added a few bonus words, usually three.  It seems as though it takes as little as three words to ruin things.  (Like hearing “I love you” but having it said by Ted Cruz, Bill Cosby or beloved sex addict David Duchovny.)

For example, has this ever happened to you?

A friend invites you to a show and as you pull into the Middle School parking lot and see on the marquee “Community Theater Presents” you know that this production of “Glengarry Glenn Ross” will run about 45 minutes less than the original because all the swear words were eliminated or changed to safer words like “dummy,” or “stupid dummy” or “Asian-American, Italian-American or Jewish-American stupid dummy.  Chocolate milk is for closers.”

Some lesser known three-word negatives include: “just his Birkenstocks” (from when a friend told me about a steamy one night stand and then ruined it by answering truthfully when I asked what he was wearing).  “Back in Texas” is a winner because if things are so great in Texas, why am I hearing this story here in upstate NY? and, finally, “are you listening?” works because if you have to ask me, you already know the answer.  (PS: according to an unofficial survey (me), “are you listening?” is the question that is most often asked following sentences that begin with “Back in Texas.”  And, no.  I’m probably not.)

Not all three-word groupings are bad, though.  “Are you hungry?” and “I could eat” work just fine and need no improvement as do “You look fine,” “Let’s just go,” and “We’re already late” which, incidentally, were all spoken on my wedding night as were “the Yankees win!” and “Good night, Spouse.”

Go On Now Go

26 Nov

blog image baobab 2

I don’t mind waiting at the pizza place.

I call it in, they say “1/2 an hour” which really means that they will commence making the pizza in 1/2 an hour because when I get there 45 minutes later, I wait.  Just not as long.

At least not as long as Cheyenne has been waiting.

I don’t personally know Cheyenne; I know her name (or her favorite state capital) because it was stamped onto the large leather key ring she was holding which was hanging next to her stuffed teddy bear key chain.  You may know Cheyenne as well: she is about 45 years old with the lungs of a 25-year-old (and roots as deep and long as a baobab tree, but I digress.).

I know that her lungs are strong because I could hear her swearing at the pizza maker from across the room.  The pizza maker whose job, BTW, is to make pizza- not manage the counter, nor talk to customers nor answer the phone.  (Why anyone would yell at the pizza maker in a small town is beyond me- it’s the Russian roulette of take out.)

Still, Cheyenne shouted at the pizza maker because her food wasn’t ready.  “If I had known it was going to take this long,” she yelled, “I would have made dinner at home.”  And, you know, it took all the strength I had not to fall apart or offer to drive her home (to a disco beat, if necessary).

Instead, I spent my time perusing the specials board, looking at the Little League team photo and reading the following written on a little plaque outside the dining room:

“It would be our pleasure to seat you.”

Surely you understand my discomfort.

While it would be my pleasure to wait for pizza if I wasn’t waiting along with Cheyenne and it would also be my pleasure to bring that pizza home if I knew that Spouse and Boy were not going to complain about it taking so long, I received no pleasure from knowing that the restaurant has terms for seating that are, essentially, a mystery.

It’s like a crucial part of the sign is missing and I am Nancy Drew.

It would be wrong of me not to use my Sharpie.

So I fixed it.  Without even telling the restaurant staff it was broken.  (That’s just how much of a giver I am.)

The little sign near the dining room now reads: “It would be our pleasure to seat you but, sadly, we have no chairs.”

“PS: Cheyenne wuz here.”


10 Oct

blog image baseball cap

As a vegetarian living in remote(ish) NY State, going out to dinner means choosing between three Italian(ish) places.

Basically, it’s battle of the sauces.

Until now.

Having eaten at dubious-looking places during my “salad days,” which is a peculiar expression given that salads are often the most expensive items on the menu, I am currently basing my dining choices on which restaurant is least likely to linguistically offend me.

For example: if I ask my waitstaff for a glass of water and s/he replies with “not a problem”- strike one.  My theory is that if there is a problem with bringing a glass of water to the table, either s/he is in the wrong profession or there’s a plumbing problem of such enormity, the entire restaurant is doomed to hell.  (Or at least the CDC.  When it reopens.)

Should the server inquire whether I am “still working on that?”- strike two.  Let us, in this instance, assume that I am eating slowly and chewing thoroughly by choice, that the chef’s skills are laudable which, in turn, prompt me to stop eating and set down my fork to savor my entrée.  Having waitstaff swoop in and ask if I am done muscling my way through my meal does not speak well for the food.  Or the workers’ opinions of the food.  Or what kids today consider “work.”  When I was their age, waiting tables was what I did between my two other jobs.  “Eating” was what I did while driving to those jobs.

(It is understood that any establishment with word mash-ups, continents, punctuation marks, animals or abbreviations in its name is a linguistic nightmare to be avoided.  You won’t find me noshing at Giraffestralian Xpress Riverbed Dinin’ Factory Experience! for example.)

The last strike is not even a criticism of my neighborhood restaurants but, rather, a criticism of the patrons of my neighborhood restaurants.  (You knew there was criticism coming, though, right?  I did.)

Assuming that everyone is seated with baseball caps removed, when the waiter or waitress who has served you all night, the one who is working hard for tips but also working so that you can enjoy a lovely evening, asks if there is anything else that he or she can bring you, do not reply with: “I’m good” because a: the waiter has not asked how you are (PS: the correct reply would be “I’m well”), b: the waiter has also not inquired about your ability to calculate percentages (at which point you could say “I’m good”), but c: I have my doubts about “b” given that you need to be reminded to take off your baseball cap while eating dinner.

On second thought, I’ll just have a bowl of cereal.

The Commencement Address that No One Asked Me to Deliver

16 May

(Written in 2002.)

Dear Graduate:

How proud both you and your parents must be of the monumental journey you have completed.

Considering that you were once a kid incapable of coloring, reading or sometimes even being nice, this is incredible.

When you were younger, there were mornings when your mom woke up late because she stayed up reading “Woe is I” (The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English) by Patricia T. O’Conner or, as it is more commonly known, the Tylenol PM of books.  (“[W]hen you need a comma or a period after a possessive word that ends with an apostrophe, the comma or period goes after the apostrophe and not inside it.”)  The defense rests.  Literally.

Dear Graduate, I’m sure you must have some questions.

Who stays up reading grammar books?

Your mother because, like all mothers, she wanted to make sure that your application was noteworthy so that you could get into a good school, earn a decent living and move out without having to move back in after she already converted your bedroom to a yoga studio.

What happens when mommy wakes up late on a school day?

Well, she staggers around trying to comprehend how it can be both horribly early and horribly late and then eats her oatmeal while driving a stick shift- in all weather- which is not just unsafe, but also unsightly.  She barely contains her road rage (who does 43 in a 55?  Don’t people who are up this early have to be somewhere?) so that you can get to school without being marked “tardy.”  Too many “tardys” and you can just kiss Princeton University goodbye.

So what happens now that you’ve graduated?

Well, your father and I have a party where the grown ups drink cosmos and beer and you cry and cry after having too much cake and soda until someone sends you to bed.

You know this behavior can’t continue.  You’re a kindergartener now- act like it.

Now get out there and change the world.

Who’s hungry?

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