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Jeans Shorten While U Wait

At a grammar workshop I recently co-taught, my fellow teacher asked participants to free-write for three minutes and then analyze the structure of any sentence they’d written, as evidence that all sentences in English can be reduced to one of five formulae she had diagrammed on the board. The way it works is a little like deconstructing apparel from another century—it looks complicated with all the layers on, but, in the end, no matter the quantity of hoops and hoopla, of linen and lace, epaulettes and eyelet, bustles and bustiers and bodices and buttons and buckles and bric-a-brac and brocade, it’s either a dress, a suit, outerwear, undergarments, footwear, or something you put on your head. After a number of successful sentence/sentence-pattern pairings in which outrageously long sentences were stripped of their accoutrements and reduced to their essential structure, one participant, a novelist whose mother tongue is Russian, raised her hand. “How about the expression ‘it was worth it’? Which of the sentence patterns does it fit?” Hound on trail of fox, my ears went up, my nose down. Whereas the internal structure of other wordier and thus seemingly complex sentences had been illuminated after being subjected to the filter of the sentence patterns, this innocuous four-word fellow resisted easy categorization. What it meant was simple; how it stacked up to structural analysis was another question. In the room around me, the class broke for lunch, but, as my brain deflected ineffectual reminders from my grumbling stomach of my neglected [...]

June 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|

Up, Up, Up!

We watched, Tibby and I, as the red balloon rose higher and higher, until it got so high above the park it seemed less to be ascending than shrinking. A balloon; a cranberry; the prick of a needle; gone. “Up!” said Tibby. Her tiny body was oriented to the blank blue quadrant where the balloon had disappeared. Head back, breastbone arched, she extended one dumpling-jointed arm skyward. “Up, up, up!” Who is this two-letter, one-syllable hiccup of a word? What part of speech its home? Whence the point of departure from which it arrived to us in English? Its roots (say my etymological online dictionary) are varied and venerable—Old English, Old Frisian (whatever that is--or rather, was), Old Norse, Old German, Gothic, Sanskrit, and, last but not least, Greek and its etymological rival Latin. Up, uppe, upp, op, these ancestors blurt, like a conference of tubas--uf, oba, ob, upo, upa, and then, as if running out of wind, hypo, sub. Deceptively simple in appearance, it can function, this diminutive phoneme, as noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, particle, and, when not on full-time lexical duty, prefix: Fed up with being put upon by their miserly boss, Upton, Jeremiah and Jonah upped the ante and gave up their up-and-up job as bank tellers to sell Upton up the river, setting him up in a hold-up, whereupon,  feeling up from one-upping his uptown ass, these uppity upstart brothers upped and left town, delighted at having gotten their comeuppance by upending Upton’s apple cart, [...]

June 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|
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