Friday, September 30, 2016

The Elements of Strunk

Behold The Elements of Strunk , created by a predictive text emulator working with the 1918 edition of The Elements of Style . The project is the work of Jamie Brew.

The prose of The Elements of Strunk often has an oracular Steinian beauty. Five discontinous samples:

In spring summer or winter sentences should be avoided.


The paragraph is the only allowable variation of the sentence.


Each paragraph is a man or an old mansion.


By itself, a comma is a portrait of a guitar. This is entirely correct.


A sentence must be feminine or better.
I learned about The Elements of Strunk from a post by a well-known hater of The Elements of Style . No matter: The Elements of Strunk can appeal to those who love or loathe Strunk and White, or to those (like me) whose responses are mixed.


10:40 a.m.: Oh, wait — there’s also a Twitter account.


10:53 a.m.: Oh, wait — Brew (and the hater) identify The Elements of Strunk as made from the 1918 text of The Elements of Style, but that text has no guitar. Not does it have other identifying marks: Coleridge, Harper’s Magazine ,Trafalgar, and so on. Brew must have used a later edition of The Elements of Style as revised by E. B. White. The fourth edition has Coleridge, Harper’s, and Trafalgar, with a guitar in the glossary of grammatical terms.

Related reading
All OCA Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)

[Steinian: as in Gertrude.]

A Neuman tattoo

We went to our soon-to-close Staples for what was probably the last time. Behind us in line at the register, a sixty-something man with a tattoo of Alfred E. Neuman on his arm. No caption, just the famous face.

“I like your tattoo,” I said. “Did you get it during the glory days of Mad?

If I had thought for another few seconds before asking, I would have realized that the ink was far too bright and sharp to have dated from the glory days of Mad . But in that case I wouldn’t have heard his explanation:

“I got it when I turned fifty. I decided that I was taking things too seriously. It goes with me everywhere.”

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Biro’s birthday

[Google Doodle, September 29, 2016.]

As The Crow pointed out in a comment this morning, today is the birthday of László Bíró, later Ladislao José Biro (1899–1985), the creator of the ballpoint pen. Thus today’s Google Doodle. The name Biro is still Britspeak for a ballpoint.

I much prefer to write with a fountain pen, but I have no hostility toward the ballpoint, and I think that reports of its role in the decline of handwriting have been greatly exaggerated. (All I have to do is think of my parents’ beautiful ballpoint handwriting.) My favorite ballpoint is the Parker T-Ball Jotter.

Thanks, Martha, for the heads up.

Related reading
All OCA pen posts (Pinboard)

“Fountain pens, pencil, and pipe”

Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street , trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016).

Edmund Jephcott has made several small changes from his earlier translation in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, and Autobiographical Writings , a 1978 collection of Benjamin’s work. The best one: meditation becomes observation , a more medical word.

Other Walter Benjamin posts
Advertising v. criticism : Benjamin on collectors : Handwriting and typing : Metaphors for writing : On happiness : On readers and writers : On writing materials : “Pencils of light” : Smoke and ink

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Impastor tonight

The second season of the series Impastor begins tonight (TV Land, 10:30 Eastern). Rachel’s husband Seth Raab is a writer for this season’s episodes. Go Seth!


[The television was on for warmth .]

“I’m sorry, Perry. My man in Japan is knocking himself out.”

Paul Drake may not be big in Japan, but he has a Japanese presence, if only in the form of a man. The long arm of the Drake Detective Agency reaches across the ocean and back, like an awkward metaphor.

Related reading, via Pinboard
All OCA “overheard” posts
All OCA Perry Mason posts

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

About last night

Pretty, pretty good, and just thirteen seconds long. I found no way to embed.

[Speaking of last night: it must mark the first time Rosie O’Donnell, Howard Stern, and a former Miss Universe (Alicia Machado) have been mentioned in a presidential debate.]


My nose is on the run.

Related reading
All OCA weather posts (Pinboard)

Punctuation and parentheses

In a new video from The New Yorker , Mary Norris talks about punctuation and parentheses. The sticky wicket: Situation No. 3, “Several sentences in quotation marks within parentheses.” Norris uses as an example a sentence from a recent New Yorker article about the actress and model Hari Nef. For clarity: the pronoun she refers to Nef, not Piczo:

A Japanese photographer named Piczo snapped away, offering monosyllabic feedback (“Nice.” “Good.” “Good.” “Yep”) as she posed in a faux-fur coat that exposed a vertical sliver of pale torso.
That final unpunctuated “Yep” looks odd to me. Norris’s explanation leaves me unpersuaded:
“If you put a period there, it would just stop the whole flow of the sentence. So by not having the period, you know the sentence is going to continue.”
I would argue that a reader already knows that the sentence is going to continue because the opening parenthesis is still waiting for its closing partner to show up. And when that partner does show up, the sentence is still without a period. It goes on.

The Chicago Manual of Style (6.13) advises against a period when a complete sentence appears in parentheses within another sentence: “the period belongs outside.” A Chicago sample sentence: “Farnsworth had left an angry message for Isadora on the mantle (she noticed it while glancing in the mirror).” But 6.13 adds: “see also 6.96.” That section adds some complications:
A question mark, an exclamation point, and closing quotation marks precede a closing parenthesis if they belong to the parenthetical matter; they follow it if they belong to the surrounding sentence. A period precedes the closing parenthesis if the entire sentence is in parentheses; otherwise it follows.
The sample sentences that follow in 6.96 make clear that the words “if the entire sentence is in parentheses” refer to sentences in parentheses that stand alone, not sentences in parentheses within other sentences. Following the guidance in 6.96, a writer could embed a series of questions in parentheses, each ending with a question mark and enclosed in quotation marks:
A reporter asked questions (“Who?” “What?” “When?” “Where?” “Why?”) as the model posed in a faux-fur coat.
But if those question marks and quotation marks belong to the parenthetical matter, so too, I think, does the period that seems oddly missing after “Yep.”

The puzzle of punctuating “(‘Nice.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Yep’)” can be solved by taking into account what Chicago says in both 6.13 and 6.96: “Avoid enclosing more than one sentence within another sentence.” Granted, the parenthetical sentences in the New Yorker sentence are one-worders. But recasting the sentence avoids all problems:
Nef posed in a faux-fur coat that exposed a vertical sliver of pale torso, as a Japanese photographer named Piczo snapped away, offering monosyllabic feedback: “Nice.” “Good.” “Good.” “Yep.”
You can read the original sentence in context and decide if my revision does any damage to meaning. I don’t think it does. A bonus: the revision removes the possible confusion of Piczo and Nef (“she”). I will admit though that I like neither the original sentence nor my revision. “A Japanese photographer named Piczo,” “a vertical sliver of pale torso”: too cluttered for my taste. And why tell the reader that the feedback is monosyllabic? The photographer’s words themselves show that.

I have written at length and with enthusiasm about Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. I’ve been less impressed by Norris’s New Yorker videos. Their recommendations seem sometimes arbitrary, sometimes confusing. This discussion of parentheses and punctuation smacks of reverse engineering, beginning with the way The New Yorker does things (“That’s how we do it at The New Yorker ,” Norris says) and then working out an explanation. But I can’t imagine an explanation that would make “(‘Nice.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Yep’)” look anything other than odd.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

[Writing this post was a lot more fun than thinking about that debate. I was all set to embed the New Yorker video until I heard the name Goldman Sachs in the obligatory ad. An ad-blocking extension will zap the ad at The New Yorker website.]

Monday, September 26, 2016

Stream of consciousness

“I am very underleveraged” . . . “I could give you a list of banks” . . . “LAX” . . . “a third-world country.” Keep talking, Donald Trump.


9:05 p.m: “We settled the suit with zero — no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do.”


9:23 p.m.: “I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.”

[I corrected a word here and there by checking the transcript at The Washington Post .]