Friday, January 8, 2016

Incessant Divagation

By Rick Jones, Husband of the Minister's Wife

Punctuation is important. I don't always get it right. I've forgotten some of the rules, some have changed since my long-ago school days, and some I simply choose to ignore. I consider the “rules” of grammar and punctuation to be more like “guidelines”. So it may be slightly hypocritical of me to get irritated when I spot the incorrect usage of “its” and “it's”; “who” and “whom”; “to”, “too”, and “two”. [This would be a good spot for Groucho Marx, a master of “pun”ishment, to make a comment about using a tutu incorrectly – but since he's dead, that would be more startling than amusing]. Speaking of puns, which I wasn't, since I'm writing, not talking, did you hear about the firefly that backed into a fan? He wasn't upset, he was de-lighted! If the Invisible Masn had a child, would that make him a trans-parent?

I enjoy playing with the English language. There are nonsensical phrases that somehow express a thought better than anything rational [example: Stephen Peacock's “He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions”]. And “proper” English which makes fun of the “rules” – like Winston Churchill's remark, “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

Even nothing can mean a great deal. A space. A bit of nothing. But there's a huge difference between “God is nowhere” and “God is now here”. A comma can certainly change the meaning of a phrase. I worked with a radio sports announcer who ended his broadcasts with the eco-friendly sign-off, “. . . and remember, recycle, everybody!”. Once, before resuming the regular format, I joked, “That reminds me of the movie 'Soylent Green', where they really did [SPOILER ALERT] 'recycle everybody'”. I was never again on his Christmas card list. And if you don't get the joke, go find a copy of the movie. It's worth watching, and if you really get caught up in it, the closing credits are profoundly disturbing.

This all came to mind while I was writing last week's article about our George collection. I was also thinking of the history lesson I planned for next month to commemorate George Washington's birthday. I realized that I could call last week's article “Georges: Relocation” and this week's article “George's Relocation”. I thought the idea was so funny that I wrote this article a month early so the two could appear back-to-back.

Except that instead of the history article, I dished up a plate of humorous uses of punctuation with side orders of puns and homonyms. Which means that you should drop by next Friday to learn about the boyhood of our nation's first president, when I present “George's Relocation Two”. Or maybe “George's Relocation, Too”. And since I'll tell you where he went, I could call it “George's Relocation To . . .”

Did I mention that like playing with the English language? I blame this in part on the high school teacher who displayed a plaque on her desk which read “QWYTCHURBELYAKIN”. Most students wouldn't spend the time necessary to decypher it, but a few of us got it: it can be sounded out to say “Quit your bellyaching”. But just to be contrary [a hallmark attutude of my hgh svhool days], I always told her it said “Quite cherub eel yacking”and had no idea what it meant. And bellyached about displaying a nonsense plaque in a place where she was supposed to help us make sense of things.

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