Monday, April 25, 2011


If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. 
I've always admired those lines from E.B. White--so much so that I captured them and preserved them in my collection of lines I admire, which I will one day bequeath to an auction house of fine standing. But not long after cataloging those words and arranging them in their display case, I began to see other versions, including this grotesque mash-up:
"I wake up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day a little difficult."
E.B White was a writer, after all (and one notorious for the precision of his word choices) so there should be a definitive written record of where the passage in question comes from and in what exact form it appeared. Indeed, the blogmeister at Ishbadiddle did some wiki-sourcing on this very question and determined that that first version is the real thing and it comes from a 1969 New York Times interview. Case closed.

But then yesterday, I sat at my wife's computer to enjoy some idle surfing while munching my bagel, and her home page quotation-generator spit this out:
Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it. --E.B. White
This time, I happened to know precisely the source, and I knew this was murderously off-key. I only had to step over to the bookcase and pull down my copy of A Subtreasury of American Humor, edited by White and his wife, Katherine, to find these lines in the preface:
Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.
First of all, I submit this as a rebuttal to all those Strunk and White fundamentalists who insist that the briefer, plainer composition is always better. The real quotation sings; the bastardized version is a feeble croak. Even E.B. White was not an Elements of Style purist. He understood that while there may be rules for grammar, there are only guidelines for writing, and they are mutable. What matters is choosing the right words for the right effect.

Which is what makes these misquotations so irksome. I suppose it's flattering to White, in a way, that his epigrams are passed around so enthusiastically that they become fodder for an undeclared game of Chinese Whispers. But considering the care this legendary literary craftsman put into his work, it is dispiriting to see his sentences vandalized by thoughtless thugs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going Gaga

According to a HuffPo story, Lady Gaga is in trouble with God. I'm not familiar with Ms. Gaga's work, but I understand she is a provocative performer, and this story seems to follow a pattern that started with Elvis shaking his hips and worked its way through Alice Cooper and his snake, Ozzie Osbourne and the headless bat, Sinead O'Conner and the pope pic incident, the guy who did the "Piss Christ" photo of a crucifix in urine, and countless others: Provocative performer says or does something deliberately provocative. Intended provokees are suitably provoked by said provocateur. Minutes of intense outrage ensue from people who claim these stunts are debasing their sacred beliefs. Outraged people become distracted by an image of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and life moves on.

The hullabaloo now is about Gaga's newest musical offering. As the story reveals:
"Judas," the latest single from Grammy-winner and fashion icon has leaked onto the internet early, adding to the already heated debate about the song, and accompanying video's, alleged sacrilege.
Yes, we're missing a the before "Grammy-winner," but the real transgression, grammatically-speaking, comes later in the sentence. If we are to believe that both the song and the video are (allegedly) sacrilegious and that that is what the debate is about, we should be looking at a compound possessive and the first possessive should be song's. If these are two separate issues, though--the debate about the song, and the (alleged) sacrilege in the video--we need to lose the parenthetical clause by dropping the final comma and making it: "heated debate about the song, and the accompanying video's alleged sacrilege." That's what Jesus would do.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Teed Off in Kelowna

Day Three of our Okanagan odyssey saw us going for a family mini-golf excursion, and what a predictably hapless foursome we present. Kim is about as deftly-coordinated as an arthritic moose. Young Abby's approach to golf is to stickhandle toward the hole like Phil Esposito on a breakaway. As for me, I am by turns astonishingly lucky (hole-in-one on the 17th thanks to a five-foot rebound off a curb) and pathetically inept (my approach on this hole

saw me suffering the effects of more strokes than Dick Clark).

Two-year-old Sam, pictured here sitting smugly by the Deadwood-inspired facade on the 16th green,

carried the day by scoring a consistent two strokes on every single hole, owing to his strategy of picking up his ball after each tee-off, walking it to the cup and dropping it in. I'm actually kind of proud of him for figuring out so swiftly the pointless futility of golf.

Oh, right...the point of this blog entry? It was this sign, introducing us to the 6th hole:

Speaking of hit-and-miss (or, I suppose, miss-and-miss in this case), we have here both absent and superfluous punctuation. There should, of course, be an apostrophe in NATURES to indicate who that gardener is in service to. And when will sign-writers learn that quotation marks are not for slapping around a phrase to give emphasis? In fact, because the scare claws are often employed to indicate irony, the play can backfire like a florescent green golf ball ricocheting off a windmill fan. Although now that I look at that mangy patch of moonscape depicted here, perhaps the claim of "quality service" is indeed meant to be ironic.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Give Us Your Poor...and We'll Give You Our Huddled Masses

It's election season again, which means more of those voiceover-of-doom, black-and-white commercials showing unflattering photographs of the other guy--the kind that got Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin to sputter:
Must we? The adolescent attack ads? The constant dispiriting insult to our intelligence and national sense of decorum? When did Karl Rove immigrate to Canada?
Should that be immigrate or is it emigrate in this context? I always get those two mixed up, the same way I'm continually confusing Bill Paxton with Bill Pullman. So I looked it up yet again (the immigrate/emigrate thing, not the Paxton/Pullman thing--I've given up on the latter).

The distinction is most often described along the lines of "to emigrate is to leave a country, while to immigrate is to come to a country"--an explanation I find less than satisfying because of course one does both at the same time. But it is a matter of perspective: the person you are seeing off is emigrating and the person you are welcoming (or, in the hypothetical case of Karl Rove, rebuffing at the point of a pitchfork) is immigrating--even if it's the same person.

So McMartin has it right. But the atheists are wrong. At least the atheists who wrote up the promotional material for their upcoming convention. They've posted a biographical snapshot of featured speaker Christopher Hitchens (who is attending via Skype, owing to ill health, alas) that says "In 1981, he emigrated to the United States." As anyone who has heard Hitchens's buttery English accent knows, the man is a product of the UK, meaning he immigrated to the United States, land of the Rovian attack ad.

Friday, April 01, 2011

I Never Thought of Selling It...

As someone who has changed (more than) his share of diapers, I am well aware of the assorted colours and patterns.