j'accuse et j'accuse et j'accuse

Have you ever heard someone describe?a person?as “talking in run-on sentences?”? What do you think that means?

I ask because I’m not sure how one can “talk in run-on sentences,” except perhaps if the listener feels that the speaker?did not include?adequate pauses to convey the necessary punctuation.? But who can say, really, whether some chat-happy talker has used a comma or a semicolon?? I mean, that sounds suspiciously like hearing in run-on sentences, if you ask me.

Maybe I should back up a bit.? My real beef, I suppose, is with? people who throw the term run-on sentence out, all j’accuse!, when they don’t know what it means.? Long sentences, sentences with multiple clauses, sentences with one independent clause after another after another, sentences?that plod on and on and never stop?and drop noun after verb after noun after verb again are not necessarily run-on sentences.?

A run-on sentence is a sentence where two or more independent clauses have not been joined together by either a coordinating conjunction (like and, but, or or) or punctuation (semicolon or colon, or sometimes an em-dash).? A sentence can contain as many independent clauses as the writer wishes (just ask Marcel Proust or William Faulkner), so long as they have been joined by the appropriate conjunction or punctuation.?

Run-On Sentences:

I ate a burrito it was as big as my leg.

Marcel Proust is a silly gay French man he uses too may long sentences.

Not??Run-On Sentences:

I ate a burrito; it was as big as my leg.

I ate a burrito, and it was as big as my leg.

A sofa that had risen up from dreamland between a pair of new and thoroughly substantial armchairs, smaller chairs upholstered in pink silk, the cloth surface of a card-table raised to the dignity of a person since, like a person, it had a past, a memory, retaining in the chill and gloom of Quai Conti the tan of its roasting by the sun through the windows of Rue Montalivet (where it could tell the time of day as accurately as Mme. Verdurin herself) and through the glass doors at la Raspeli?re, where they had taken it and where it used to gaze out all day long over the flower-beds of the garden at the valley far below, until it was time for Cottard and the musician to sit down to their game; a posy of violets and pansies in pastel, the gift of a painter friend, now dead, the sole fragment that survived of a life that had vanished without leaving any trace, summarising a great talent and a long friendship, recalling his keen, gentle eyes, his shapely hand, plump and melancholy, while he was at work on it; the incoherent, charming disorder of the offerings of the faithful, which have followed the lady of the house on all her travels and have come in time to assume the fixity of a trait of character, of a line of destiny; a profusion of cut flowers, of chocolate-boxes which here as in the country systematised their growth in an identical mode of blossoming; the curious interpolation of those singular and superfluous objects which still appear to have been just taken from the box in which they were offered and remain for ever what they were at first, New Year?s Day presents; all those things, in short, which one could not have isolated from the rest, but which for Brichot, an old frequenter of the Verdurin parties, had that patina, that velvety bloom of things to which, giving them a sort of profundity, an astral body has been added; all these things scattered before him, sounded in his ear like so many resonant keys which awakened cherished likenesses in his heart, confused reminiscences which, here in this drawing-room of the present day that was littered with them, cut out, defined, as on a fine day a shaft of sunlight cuts a section in the atmosphere, the furniture and carpets, and pursuing it from a cushion to a flower-stand, from a footstool to a lingering scent, from the lighting arrangements to the colour scheme, carved, evoked, spiritualised, called to life a form which might be called the ideal aspect, immanent in each of their successive homes, of the Verdurin drawing-room.? –M. Proust

The next time you hear some giddy person waxing on and on and on, never giving you the chance to get a word in edgewise, feel free to call him a conversation-monopolizing jerkburger, because he probably is.? On the grammar front, however, give him the benefit of the doubt and assume you simply can’t hear his semicolons.? As for those silly gay French men and their ponderous descriptions of some lady’s drawing room, just be glad you did not decide to write a book about them.

success needs celebrated!

The old post about that mysterious English construction, “needs fixed,” has apparently done a little fixing of its own — it continues to attract googlers from all over, and, according to my dad, it may be working to call attention to this, the most pressing issue facing our Global Anglophone Community.

?He reports from the front lines:

I almost forgot to tell you: ?repair tags at?[Company] now say “This light needs TO BE repaired.” ?No, I can’t take credit for the change.? They probably noticed the international ridicule to which they were? subjected by your blog 🙂

Victory, my friends.? Victory.? Or coincidence; you never know.? Either way, it is now time to move on to the next thing.? I would suggest working to stamp out definately, but let’s face it; that would never happen.? What do you think?

grammar question needs answered

My dad told me the other day that at his workplace, he constantly sees signs posted on things claiming needs fixed or needs repaired, with the verb to be completely left out. I haven’t seen this sort of thing all that often, but I told him I would investigate. A quick googling led me to discover the following trends: it seems common among engineers (which would make sense for my dad, who is a chemist and works with other chemists, engineers, and, yea, even chemical engineers); many people claim it’s a Midwestern Thing; many Midwesterners claim never to have heard it; some claim it’s common in Pennsylvania; and one source characterized it as a Scottish tendency.

Have you guys encountered this one? Where? Are you engineers? Are you Scottish? Are you engineering things and eating haggis right at this very moment?

It’s not uncommon for the verb to be to be left out of things — think about urban vernacular, for example — and we cool with that, dogg, at least usually. In this case it seems to be left out for the sake of efficiency. Lord knows we need efficient! All those Midwestern, Pennsylvanian, and Scottish engineers are so very busy and important that they have no time for the lowly verb. Needs repaired is so much shorter than needs to be repaired, isn’t it? Two whole words shorter. But if that were the case, then, if it were for the sake of efficiency, why use a past participle? Why not a noun? Needs repair, needs fix, or, better yet, let’s move to the imperative itself and command: FIX! After all, why make the broken item the subject of the sentence — a passive sentence at that, as this item needs to be repaired is the implied sentence here — when you can make it the object? FIX! Fix this item! I command you to fix this item!

Suddenly, after that orgy of exclamation points and the imperative, I feel drunk with power. I shall climb to the top of the highest tower in Zembla and command electron microscopes and toasters and bedazzlers all over town fixed. Fix! Fix! Fix them all!

on the subjunctive and cutting people

First, the Defensive Bitching

You know what really burns my toast? When people’s default behavior is to assume I am wrong. I hate saying something, anything, even something as innocuous as a preference for a certain type of mustard, only to be told I am wrong. I especially hate it when this happens before I even finish uttering my claim, but man, let me tell you, I really hate it when it happens and I am right. Worst of all is when it happens, and I am right, and the person contradicting me just repeats or rephrases the exact claim I just made.

An example that happened last night:

Me: I think the difference in comprehensibility has to do with the level of diction, and of course the fact that it’s written in verse.

Friend 1: No, that’s not it at all; I mean, it’s really about the vocabulary!

Friend 2: And the fact that it’s written like poetry, and is poetical.

See what happened there? I include this example only because it is a recent one and thus fresh in my mind, and I will say that the friends in question are both excellent people and didn’t mean to be rude or weird or anything; it was just a loud pub and an excited conversation. I feel no less fond of them for it. But you see the general phenomenon I am describing.

A strange form of that phenomenon shows up here (on this very blog!) with some frequency. Because I write about grammar and writing and teaching here quite a lot, and also, I’m sure, because the word Grammar is in the title of my blog*, people seem to enjoy coming over here and scouring my writing for grammar or usage “errors.” Let’s take that smug bitch down a couple of notches, shall we, and “correct” her “mistakes.” It would be ridiculous of me to presume that I never make mistakes in writing — I have typed an “its” when I meant “it’s” or a “to” then I meant “too” thousands of times, and those are basic mistakes. It’s shameful! Even a fifth grader could explain the difference. I don’t use the spell check. I’ll leave a word out of a sentence or leave a letter off of a word, and I won’t notice until days or weeks later, at which point I am typically too lazy to fix it. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I pepper my writing with commas, begin sentences with conjunctions, split infinitives, and generally make all manner of stylistic choices that were considered unfashionable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which is the era of English whence most of these self-described “pedants” get their “rules.”

The thing is, though, I do choose my words carefully. When I write “till,” I don’t mean “’til.” “‘Til” is not even a real word, and I (or the OED) can tell you all about it. I use dictionaries all the time, for fun. I read Safire’s “On Language” whenever I come across a Sunday Times and re-read my favorite bits of Elements of Style when I’m trying to procrastinate. When I go to Borders, I flip through Garner’s Guide to Modern American Usage for the sheer thrill of it all. I have studied and taught grammar (and not just in English), and I have the basic arsenal to be deliberate about what I write. If I make some claim about grammar or usage, you can bet that I have researched it to whatever degree was necessary.

And yet, there are people who lurk around in dark corners, reading this blog for months and months without ever offering a kind or witty comment or even just effing saying hello, only to spring from hiding to leave a smug little one-word comment to “correct” a non-existent error. And they refuse to say where they think the error is, or respond in any useful way whatever. Yet another person identifying himself as a grammar “pedant” (they’re worse even than the “sticklers” and “Nazis,” and not nearly as fun as the “mavens”) who seems to know just enough about grammar to be an ass about it, yet not enough about it to be right.

And Now The Actual Grammar

After that bitchy preamble, allow me to tell you a little bit about the subjunctive mood, which was the subject of that dude’s complaint, and how it is used in conjunction with the conditional. First: conditional sentences involve two parts: the condition and the result. The condition part can often be identified because it begins with “if,” while the result part often begins with “then.” That’s easy enough, right? IF this CONDITION is true, THEN this RESULT happens.

The “conditional” aspect is kind of straightforward. So what is up with this “subjunctive” everyone keeps going on about? Well, you can read up on it some here, and see the chart with different forms, but to be quick I’ll just say it is a verb mood that is used with the conditional, as well as in some other ways. It is used to express something that is contrary to fact, or something that is wished, requested, or required. This means you should use it in the condition clause of your sentence when that condition is actually untrue or unlikely, then the result clause of your sentence will have a would- conditional. There’s more to it, but that will work for now. Here are some examples:

If I were a rich man [subjunctive], I would be able to afford a new car. Also, I would be a man, which would be weird. (Condition sentence, with one condition clause and three result clauses.)

It was required that he be trained on the new machines [subjunctive]. (Requirement.)

I wish I were going to the party [subjunctive]. (Wish.)

Some common phrases: as it were, if I were you, be that as it may, woe betide, peace be with you, etc [subjunctive].

What this means is: Some condition sentences will need the subjunctive in order to refer to a condition that is contrary to fact. On the other hand, some condition sentences will not use the subjunctive at all — they’ll use the indicative (the regular old verb forms we know and love). Those contrary-to-fact situations are known as “irrealis,” and the conditions that may or may not be true are known as “realis.”

When we write, we choose the mood according to whether the condition is realis (may be true) or irrealis (probably/definitely not true). When we read, we interpret a sentences meaning by these cues, too. Here are some examples:

If you are wondering how to proceed [indicative], you should follow the instructions. (Realis, i.e. indicates that something is or may be the case — We interpret this as meaning that this person may indeed be wondering how to proceed.)

If you were wondering how to proceed [subjunctive], you would consult the instructions. (Irrealis, i.e. indicates that something is not the case or is unlikely — We readers assume this person probably is not wondering how to proceed.)

If he is coming with us [indicative], we will need to pick him up. (Realis — Dude, is he coming with us or not?)

If he were coming with us [subjunctive], we would need to pick him up. (Irrealis — Thank god that guy isn’t coming; I hate having to drive out to his house and pick him up.)

If you continue to act like an assbutt [subjunctive], I will cut you. (Realis — may be true, or, in this case, is bloody likely.)

If you continued to act like an assbutt [indicative], you surely lost your job. (Realis — That may have happened! But maybe it didn’t!)

If you had continued to act like an assbutt [subjunctive], I would have cut you. (Irrealis — Thank god you changed your assbutted ways.)

So, I hope I have made this clear, if not interesting. Frankly it now seems silly that I have written this much merely in response to one jerkburger’s snide comment, but since he didn’t come back and explain how he thought I should have used the subjunctive in that post, I had no choice but to assume that he meant I should have used it in the first sentence (the only sentence where “were,” his first comment? would fit as a “subjunctive,” which he referenced in his second comment), and, after looking at that first sentence again, I determined that I was, in fact, right. As fucking usual. Here’s what I wrote:

If you are wondering, as many are, how to create a strong first impression when you make contact with the instructor who will be teaching one of your courses, you might be interested in the following tutorial.

First, I’ll break it down into its simpler components:

If you are wondering [condition, indicative], you might be interested [result]. (Realis.)

Now let’s change “are” to “were:”

If you were wondering [condition, subjunctive], you might be interested [result]. (Irrealis.)

I suppose the beauty of this is that both versions of the condition statement work with the result as I wrote it, since “might” is used as the past tense of may, the conditional of may, and the “polite” form of may. That, however, is a subject for another time. The point here is this: In the original version, use of the indicative (“are wondering”) allows for the fact that “you” may or may not be wondering. Were I to have written “were,” I would have been implying that “you” were not wondering at all. And frankly, I want to give you more credit than that.

*When I came up with the title “Zemblan Grammar,” I did not have it in mind that I would actually write about grammar. Despite appearances, there is no connection between that title and the writing I now do about grammar and usage. I suspect this dude has missed the point of the title entirely.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

breathe – This is a verb. It is an action; a thing you do. For example, when you breathe through your mouth like that, it makes you look like a dumbass.

breath – This is a noun. It is a thing you have, like that really stank coffee breath. Dude, do you need a mint?

psyche – Psyche is a figure in Greek mythology; the psyche refers to the ancient Greek conception of the self. That is all.

psych – This is the common abbreviation for psychiatric. Note that there is no "e." There is no "e" in psychology; there is no "e" in psychiatry or psychological or psychiatric. THERE IS NO "E." When you are mentally ill and have to check yourself into the psych ward, and when you blog about it later, quite famously, be sure to spell the effing word correctly.

faze – This is a verb, and it means something similar to "daunt." Yes, this is really how you spell it. Not that my exasperation fazes you.

phase – Not the same. Dude, stop saying you are "unphased." You?ll have to stop eventually. I mean, this is just a phase you?re going through, right? Right?

demure – This is an adjective; it describes things, such as your coyly decorous behavior, you little minx.

demur – This is a verb. It takes action! It objects to that suggestion!

bate – Hello friends, here we have another verb! What does it mean?. You are waiting with bated breath over there, aren?t you? Well relax, dude, because I am here to tell you that this word is another form of abate.

bait – Jail bait. Bait and switch. Bait the hook. Not the same as bate, above. Unless?.wait, are you able to bait your breath somehow? It?s the mint I gave you, isn?t it? Fess up.

rein – If this is a noun, it?s the leather strap you use to steer your horse, or the one your kinky boyfriend uses to?oh, never mind. If it?s a verb, it means hold back or keep in check. I see you?re excited over there, but please try to rein it in.

reign – A period of rule or sovereign power. You are entering the reign of reason; please wear your seat-belt at all times.

schwag – Dope. Pot. Mary Jane. Ganja. Weed. Bad weed, at that. The dry, seedy stuff. The brown frown. Don?t even think about bringing that schwag over to my house when I know you?re sitting on a bag of Northern Lights. Seriously, dude, that is just bad form.

swag – Loot. Booty. Free stuff, such as the fancy-schmancy free stuff they give actors just for showing up to awards shows and shit. Entertainment "journalists" of America, please stop saying that the Oscars gift bags are going to be full of great schwag this year. For one thing, great schwag is, by definition, an impossibility; for another thing, I don?t think you want to get Lindsay Lohan and Woody Harrelson all excited over something that is just going to turn out to be a free watch.