Archive for the ‘Writing Life’ Category

Exercice de Style:
Lockjaw

Friday, September 12th, 2008

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On my daily round of links, I came across a reference to something called “Larchmont Lockjaw” [not at this site]. I sat up like a shot, because of course the manner of speaking referred to — best characterized as speaking through clenched teeth, so that one’s jaw remains stationary is not called “Larchmont Lockjaw.” It is called “Locust Valley Lockjaw.” In tribute to its best known exponent, Katharine Hepburn, it probably ought to be called “Hartford Lockjaw.”

But, Larchmont! The very idea! Larchmont’s one claim to fame is that nobody knows whether it is to the North or to the South of Mamaroneck. Yes, I know — you can look it up and tell me! But you will forget! It is impossible to distinguish the Tweedledee and the Tweedledum of Westchester country living.

Locust Valley is on the other side of Long Island Sound. It is, therefore, on Long Island. (On the evidence of the Web site, however, I rather doubt that the patois is spoken there anymore.)

If you want to know what Locust Valley Lockjaw sounds like, let your Auntie Mame help out. It’s the way that young Patrick’s would-be fiancée, Gloria Upson, melds her incisors. “And then I hit the ball….”

Daily Office:
Monday

Monday, September 1st, 2008

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Matins: This entry was supposed to be a straightforward re-introduction to the canonical hours that serve, here at The Daily Blague, as a framework for everyday links. We took a summer break; now we’re back. Keep reading, if you’re interested, for a bit of bloghstory. Even if you don’t, have a great Labor Day!

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Exercice de Style:
Devolution

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

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Although I am not a prescriptivist, I find the sloppy misuse of sophisticated words very annoying. It is not often that Michiko Kakutani annoys me in this way, but she did so yesterday, in a review of Curtis Sittenfield’s new novel, American Wife.

Ms. Sittenfeld’s portrait of Charlie Blackwell, however, quickly devolves into caricature.

Wrong. The portrait descends into caricature. Devolution is the opposite of evolution: it means turning backward instead of forward. Responsibilities and sovereignties devolve, falling back on the shoulders of a person (or a sovereign) when something else doesn’t happen to keep them from doing so; as, for example, when superiors leave it to cubicals to make a deadline. Devolution may be regrettable, but it has nothing to do with the deterioration that Ms Kakutani imputes to the portrait of Charlie Blackwell. You may wish that your boss did his own work, and stopped leaving it for you to finish up, but that doesn’t mean that the work itself had been made less worth doing by his irresponsibility.  

Here, then, is what Ms Kakutani ought to have written.

Ms. Sittenfeld’s portrait of Charlie Blackwell, however, quickly descends into caricature.

When you’re writing about something getting worse, steer clear of devolution.

Exercice de Style:
One Each

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

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Notice is herewith given of the following stylistic convention:

  • one another is used of couples and trios: “Lovers love one another.”
  • each other is used of groups greater than three: “The gang members looked at each other before dropping their gaze in shame.”

I am aware that some writers reverse the terms. To my ear, however, “one” suggests “one other,” or at most two, while “each” suggests a series, and, by extension, a group. Which is all the post hoc propter that you’re going to get out of me. Style is ultimately indefensible.

Exercice de Style:
Double Preterite

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

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The other day, Father Tony wrote, of some opulently nouveaux villas in Forest Hills,

(It’s the sort of thing many of my relatives would have been proud to have built.)

It emerged in subsequent correspondence that Father T meant exactly what he said, and that the second preterite expressed part of his thought. His (dead) relatives would have loved to have built such houses. There is no faulting his grammar, which, in fact, is not what I’d meant to do, anyway.

But… (more…)