All right. Tonight, we’re talking about bad grammar. Now, I know what you’re thinking. We don’t need no lessons on grammar. And you’re probably right. But Dwight’s not here, anymore, and I think it’s up to the rest of us to pick up his journalistic slack as well as whatever else he left around the studio.
Why else? Because yesterday was National Grammar Day. And because I want to. “Because I want to” being a sentence fragment, of course. Which is completely different from a run-on sentence, which connects two sentence fragments without appropriate punctuation or conjunction. So here’s a test. What, grammatically, is wrong with this sentence:
This exceeding trifling witling, considering ranting criticizing concerning adopting fitting wording being exhibiting transcending learning, was displaying, notwithstanding ridiculing, surpassing boasting swelling reasoning, respecting correcting erring writing, and touching detecting deceiving arguing during debating.
Actually, it’s A-OK, grammatically speaking. It translates into something along the lines of:
This very superficial grammatist, supposing empty criticism about the adoption of proper phraseology to be a show of extraordinary erudition, was displaying, in spite of ridicule, a very boastful turgid argument concerning the correction of false syntax, and about the detection of false logic in debate.
That was written around 1851 by Goold Brown in an effort to illustrate the versatility of the ending -ing. Titled The Grammar of English Grammars, you can get a digital copy of copies for free courtesy of Project Gutenberg.
How about this one?
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. The first, third and seventh Buffalo’s are capitalized.
Correct or no? It actually works because of the multiple uses of Buffalo. We have the city of Buffalo in New York, we have Buffalo the animal and Buffalo the verb, which means to bully or to intimidate. Knowing this, an alternate reading would be, “Buffalo bison that other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison.”
Another oft-employed grammatical trick is known as the garden path, as in to lead one down, or to lead one astray.
This effect happens due to the way we process sentences. As we read a sentence, one word at a time, we arrange that word in our mind so that it fits in with the words we already know are in the sentence. On the first word of a sentence, we don’t really know what’s going on yet. Maybe we have a subject. But as we get three or four words into it, we start to expect the type of word that will come next. A verb, maybe. Or possibly an adverb. Or some punctuation. When the author intentionally leads you down the path of a familiar sentence structure and then quickly dumps you out in the cold, forcing you to carefully re-read or re-evaluate the sentence, you’ll know you’ve been intentionally lead down the garden path.
While these don’t translate from the written page into the spoken word elegantly, due mostly to the speaker’s inflection, here’s an example:
The horse raced past the barn fell.
When we get to the word raced, we think we have it figured out. It isn’t until we reach fell that we have to re-evaluate the sentence. Adding some inflection, we get:
The horse, raced past the barn, fell.
Adding a little more language, we get, The Horse that was raced past the barn, fell.
And, of course, there’s the famous Groucho Marx garden path play of, “One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” In this case, neither path is a dead end. Both lead to a correct grammatical end, though one is slightly more plausible than the other.
Something that IS extremely plausible?
The March installment of the Technology Bytes Geek Gathering.
It’s coming up this Friday night at Khon’s Coffee Wine Beer Art Dwight and Darts. Located at 2808 Milam at Drew in Midtown Houston, Khons fulfills all the promises made in it’s signage and throws in some free WiFi to boot. The usual assortment of geeks and gear should be out a little after seven in the evening and we’d like to add you to the fold. While we hope to be wrangling robots later in the year, Friday’s get together will focus on green technology. Nascent tech, environmentally friendly tech, tech you’re envious of, tech built with green PCB, you get the idea.
So put on your best circuit board green and come out to the Technology Bytes Geek Gathering.
That’s it for this Grammitization of actual events and that’s that for BarretTime.