Conflict. Today, my writing was likened to Dan Brown’s, and I’m compelled to demonstrate at least a rudimentary grasp of grammar and its subtleties.
Interlude. Let me explain how I arrived at this conflict; skip to the dénouement if the travelogue begins to bore you. [Note to self: look up or else coin the adjectival form of interlude; consider interludinous, interludinal, interludinary, interludine.]
The comparison of my writing with Dan Brown’s occurred earlier today, while I was visiting I Write Like, a momentarily amusing web¹ site at http://iwl.me. I arrived there from this CONJUGATE VISITS post (sorry, but its author yells the title). I happened onto CONJUGATE VISITS while looking up “supposably,” which I learned today is a word (note the absence of scare quotes around “word”), as opposed to a “word,” which would have been my first guess.
The next step back is a tad embarrassing. I only realized where I’d been before looking up supposably when I retraced my steps for this blog post; I’d gotten the idea to look up supposably from this article on the web site of Reader’s Digest, a generally icky place I wouldn’t have visited intentionally. A tweet from Phil Jimenez led me to the Reader’s Digest article (more specifically a bit.ly URL in the tweet, and I submit disguise-by-shortening as my excuse).
I don’t recall whether I read Phil’s particular tweet before or after I noted that he and I shared exactly one Facebook like, Dan Savage. That was no surprise, given what (or who? It’s a fictional character, so I’m not sure.) led me to Phil’s Twitter stream in the first place — Kevin Keller. Kevin, as you may know, made his appearance in Veronica #202 today; while I’ve yet to get my hands on the issue, I’d caught wind of it from Google News and consequently searched Twitter for the latest buzz, finding Phil, then Reader’s Digest, then supposably, then CONJUGATE VISITS, then I Write Like. In summary,
- I Write Like, from
- CONJUGATE VISITS, from
- supposably, from
- Reader’s Digest, from
- @philjimeneznyc, from
- Kevin Keller, from
- Google News, from
- daily routine.
Dénouement. On to my demonstration. Consider the following sentence, which I found on Amazon in a one-star review of CONJUGATE VISITS’s authoress June Casagrande’s book, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences, here.
Copernicus was thrilled when he discovered that the earth revolves around the sun.
Casagrande and the reviewer both prefer this to “Copernicus was thrilled when he discovered that the earth revolved around the sun.” I on the other hand, presently compelled to say something about grammar, offer an even better sentence.
Copernicus was thrilled to discover that the earth revolves around the sun.
The proposition of Casagrande’s sentence (either version) has two parts. Deconstructing the sentence rigorously, it states first that Copernicus was thrilled, and second that Copernicus’s² thrill occurred when he made his now famous discovery. However, the second part of the proposition is perplexing, if only slightly. If the writer had stopped after “Copernicus was thrilled,” I’d have felt cheated, but because she’d failed to explain why he was thrilled, not because she’d failed to explain when he was thrilled. Emotions interest readers because of their why, not their when.
For most readers, I’m sure the second part of the sentence as written sufficiently explains the why. Similarly, if the “thrilled when” sentence were part of an SAT reading comprehension question, the “correct” answer to Why was Copernicus thrilled? would be a) Because he discovered that the earth revolves around the sun., not d) It’s impossible to determine from the reading. But why explain “why?” indirectly by explaining when? The turn of phrase “thrilled to discover” isn’t the only choice — one might say “thrilled by his discovery” or “thrilled to have discovered,” but it’s the best choice, and this is my blog. Also, I might have answered d) to the SAT question, especially if I knew I’d get to argue with a teacher about it later. I don’t brag about my SAT English score, and for good reason.
Epilog. Dare I paste this blog post into I Write Like? And if I do, then post the result here, then paste it in again, will the result be the same, and if not, and I repeat the process… [Update: The result is … H. P. Lovecraft. I’ll leave it at that. Tear from the fabric the threads that are old!]
Postscript. You, dear reader, are a mensch for getting to this point. Let me know how I can return the favor. You are almost as much of a mensch as Itzik, who hired me as an editor … twice, the second time after knowing how I go on about things like this.
¹ By writing web and not Web, I comport with one of the “Significant Rule Changes” in the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. The interested reader (which is to say You, because you’ve read this far into my footnote) can find the full list here. This footnote is not an endorsement of The Chicago Manual of Style.
² Ibid. Among the Significant Rule Changes are rules on the possessive forms of two kinds of names: those ending with an unpronounced “s” and those ending with an “eez” sound (in the latter case presumably when the name also ends in “s,” because there can’t be any debate on possessives like Lise’s). Copernicus falls into neither category, and I don’t know the latest rule on his possessive. My rule is to always add ’s to form a possessive (as in This is Steve Kass’s blog.) except maybe for Jesus, Moses, and princess. Even for them I’m not certain what I’d do, but they don’t come up in my writing much.