Here’s a trio of literary treats to celebrate today, the birthday of E. E. Cummings.
1. Seems like today is as good a day as any to tackle that old “e. e. cummings” thing. Read this pair of articles by Norman Friedman (here and here) to for the case against lowercasing “E. E. Cummings.”
2. Over at McSweeney’s, check out the brief and amusing “YouTube Comment or e. e. cummings?” You will excuse the impertinent lowercasing of Mr. Cummings’ name (see #1).
3. And finally, please enjoy a musical performance by Michael Hedges of one of my favorite poems (by one of my favorite poets), “I carry your heart with me.”
This sentence is possibly one of the most tortured pieces of writing I have come across in a long, long time. It appeared in an article about a recent performance Aerosmith gave outside the Boston apartment building they used to live in back in the day.
“Across the street from 1325 Commonwealth Ave. is a sign that Aerosmith band members wrote in a book they would see when they walked out the front door of their apartment building during the early 1970s.”
Here’s the problem: this poor little sentence is trying to do too many things at once. Is it a sign they wrote in a book? Is it a book they would see when they walked out the front door of their apartment building? Or is it neither of these? My red pen is itching to get at it.
From the rest of the article, we find out that it’s a sign they would see when they walked out of their apartment and that they wrote about in a book. But that’s a long way to get there from here. With a little editing, this sentence could be pared down and reordered to reflect that, something like this (for example):
“Across the street from 1325 Commonwealth Ave. is a sign that Aerosmith band members would see when they walked out the front door of the apartment building
, which they lived in during the early 1970s. They wrote about seeing the sign in their book.”
But unfortunately, that’s a lot less interesting than the idea of them writing a sign in a book they would see when they walked out of their apartment. And hey, it was Aerosmith, and it was the 1970s. Anything was possible.
“Cautionary Ghost” by xkcd
You always knew there had to be some perks to being an English major, right?
H/t Jacob Andrews of forlackofabettercomic.com
Celebrate National Grammar Day on March 4! Visit the official website (maintained by Grammar Girl) for many ways to celebrate, including the recipe for the official Grammartini (developed by founder Martha Brockenbrough), grammar e-cards, t-shirts, links to other blogs that are honoring the day, desktop wallpaper by Thomas McGee like the one you see here, and much more.
Editor Mark’s National Grammar Day haiku contest closes at 10 p.m. on 3/3 (so there may still be a few hours left), but stay tuned for announcements about the winning haiku. Be sure to check out John E. McIntyre’s Grammarnoir (part I, part II, part III), always a National Grammar Day treat. Part IV will be unveiled on the big day. And check out copyediting.com for tips and ideas about celebrating grammar and language every day.
And finally, on this day and on every day, let’s remember one thing: Be kind. To err is human, and National Grammar Day isn’t about getting the biggest red pen you can find (literal or verbal) and striking fear in the hearts of those around you who may spell something incorrectly, dangle a participle, or choose the wrong word. It’s not about upping the ante on bashing others for getting something “wrong” or for pedantically correcting those around us.
Language is beautiful and complex, and we are all challenged by it sometimes. I began blogging six years ago, and in that time, I have gotten to “know” many of my fellow word nerds through their blogs (see blogroll) and through daily chatter over Twitter. I don’t always get it right (and, goodness knows, I just can’t shake that it’s/its mistake I sometimes make!), and I’m grateful to wordies who have gently shown me the way as we together explore the nuances of working with words. Conversing each day with my language comrades-in-arms about the topics in which we share a common interest is a joy. National Grammar Day is just a day for celebrating that joy.
This little tidbit was sent by my West Coast correspondent. He called this example of a misplaced modifier delicious, and I have to agree.
Oh noes! Bad development proposals from the New Jersey Audubon Society! Oh, wait a minute, not so fast. More likely, the writer meant “Suggestions from the New Jersey Audubon Society for fighting bad development proposals.” See what I did there?
For more on misplaced modifiers, check out here.
Recently, I had the chance to see Pilgrimage, the Annie Leibovitz exhibit currently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. There’s plenty here to delight word nerds: photographs of Emily Dickinson’s dress, Virginia Woolf’s writing desk, Thoreau’s bed, Emerson’s hat . . . the list goes on.
My particular favorite was a photo of the journal of Bronson Alcott. It’s one of several photographs taken at Orchard House in Concord, Mass. Take a close look—you’ll see the outline of Bronson’s hand enclosing the much smaller outline of the hand of his daughter Louisa May Alcott.
Visit here for more images from this exhibit. If you can’t make it to Washington, D.C., the exhibit will begin its national tour in June at the Concord Museum. Watch a video about Pilgrimage.
Have you seen “The Joy of Books” yet? You haven’t? Then you must—simply must—take a minute to watch this absolutely and whimsically delightful video of a bookstore coming to life at night.
The video was created by husband and wife Sean Ohlenkamp and Lisa Blonder Ohlenkamp and their team of volunteers, with awesome music by Grayson Matthews. If you enjoyed it, the Ohlenkamps are also responsible for “Organizing the Bookscases,” a similar video done on a much smaller scale with a pair of bookcases. Read an interview with Sean Ohlenkamp.
It’s the Elements of Style rap by Columbia grad students Jake Heller and Ben Teitelbaum. What will they think of next?
Bonus MRP moments
- What’s the most embarrassing typo you can make from “herniated disk”? Yeah, that happened (via Bill Walsh).
- Check out the American Dialect Society’s 2011 Word of the Year nominees, in such categories as “Most Creative,” “Most Unnecessary,” and “Most Euphemistic.” I’m sure it’s not giving anything away to reveal that occupy took the top honors, although I was kind of partial to kardash and mellencamp.
One thing that was great about the word occupy was that it made both the word of the year lists and the LSSU List of Banished Words.
The LSSU list was sort of limp and uninspired this year, with words such as man cave, ginormous, and baby bump rising to the top of the words that bug people the most. Big whoop. Top vote getter was amazing, which I found kind of amazing.
Check out Stan Carey’s round up of the Word of the Year parade. This year’s horse race got off to a weird start for me when Dictionary.com named tergiversate (which I think I’ve finally figured out how to spell) as its WOTY for for reasons that I’m sure seem well thought out to them. To me, it seemed like the year obviously belonged to occupy, both for its ubiquity and its cultural versatility.