Archives For Words that Make You Smile

Shut Up He Explained

August 27, 2013 — 14 Comments

LardnerMy wife and I love that phrase, and we often recall it when we encounter particularly over-strained (or “broken”) grammar. When I encountered it as the title of a book, I was unaware of its original source.

This is where I reveal that I wasn’t an American Lit major in college. (Well, regular readers probably figured that out long ago.)

I had never heard of Ring Lardner until today. (If you don’t recognize his name either, you needn’t feel embarrassed . . . he died eighty years ago.)

Lardner was a well regarded humorist who considered himself a sports writer. One of his satires was entitled The Young Immigrunts. It was a parody of a popular English book, The Young Visitors, which was allegedly written by a young girl.

The Young Immigrunts is fictitiously ascribed to Lardner’s son, Ringgold Wilmer Lardner, Jr. His son was only four, at the time. Later he would become a successful screenwriter, winning an Academy Award for the film M*A*S*H. He also wrote prolifically for the television series.

Perhaps Lardner Junior is best remembered as one of the Communist writers blacklisted in Hollywood. But we need not go into that, since his father was merely using his young son as a surrogate author for the work.

The book takes the form of the ramblings of a child, and its quaintness will appeal to many readers. You can download a copy of it here.

It’s not my own preferred genre, so I won’t be reading it in its entirety, but in small doses, I find it rather entertaining.

A little later who should come out on the porch and set themselfs ner us but the bride and glum [pictured above].

Oh I said to myself I hope they will talk so as I can hear them as I have always wandered what newlyweds talk about on their way to Niagara Falls and soon my wishs was realized.

Some night said the young glum are you warm enough.

I am perfectly comfertible replid the fare bride tho her looks belid her words what time do we arrive in Buffalo.

9 oclock said the lordly glum are you warm enough.

I am perfectly comfertible replid the fare bride what time do we arive in Buffalo.

9 oclock said the lordly glum I am afrade it is too cold for you out here.

Well maybe it is replid the fare bride and without farther adieu they went in the spacius parlers.

I wander will he be arsking her 8 years from now is she warm enough said my mother with a faint grimace.

The weather may change before then replid my father.

Are you warm enough said my father after a slite pause.

No was my mothers catchy reply.

And now the phrase that always makes me smile.

The lease said about my and my fathers trip from the Bureau of Manhattan to our new home the soonest mended. In some way ether I or he got balled up on the grand concorpse and next thing you know we was thretning to swoop down on Pittsfield.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.

Shut up he explained.

I am curious as to whether or not C.S. Lewis was acquainted with Lardner’s work. It doesn’t quite conform to his literary tastes, but Lewis was so widely read that I think it’s possible he was at least acquainted with who he was.

My research on the matter did produce an interesting juxtaposition between the two authors. I discovered it in a book by Sherwood Wirt, perhaps the last reporter to interview C.S. Lewis (for Decision magazine, of which he was editor). I was privileged to know “Woody,” so I enjoyed finding that he mentioned both men in his book I Don’t Know what Old is, But Old is Older than Me.

With twentieth century fiction we have to be quite selective. In limiting my comments to the American scene, I will pass by many of the great names of fiction — Henry James, Stephen Crane, Edith Wharton, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Ring Lardner, William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote.

While most of these are excellent writers, I doubt whether they have much to say to today’s older readers that would make life more pleasant, more interesting, or more fruitful in the closing stretches of life’s journey. Nor do I think that these authors have anything worthwhile to say about what lies beyond death. We might better spend our reading hours riding off into the sunset with Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey, rather than punish ourselves with a ghastly tale like In Cold Blood.

We old boys and girls have been around a long time. We know what the world is like. We know sleaze when we see it, and we don’t need contemporary authors to embellish it or explain it to us.

The reading tastes of the American public have been corrupted almost beyond redemption by blasphemy, vulgarity, and scatology, all for the sake of increased book sales to prurient minds. There are, however, many twentieth-century American novels worth reading, such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, the Savannah quartet of Eugenia Price, and the Sebastian series of James L. Johnson, to name only a few.

Earlier in the century the Christian novels of Lloyd C. Douglas—The Magnificent Obsession, The Robe, and The Big Fisherman—inspired thousands of readers young and old, but no American has since matched his popular appeal.

The demand for detective fiction continues unabated, and no one needs my advice to read Agatha Christie. I would, therefore, limit my remarks to a reference to two British creations, G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, since both are written from Christian backgrounds. My two favorite Wimsey stories are Busman’s Honeymoon and The Nine Tailors.

In contrast there is a wealth of devotional literature that makes wonderful reading for older people. One can start with the sermons of D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Samuel P. Jones, Joseph Parker, and T. DeWitt Talmage of the nineteenth century. The early twentieth century gave us Andrew Murray, Ole Hallesby, P.T. Forsyth, and Oswald Chambers, whose writings are hard to surpass. Amy Carmichael’s poetry and prose written in India, have blessed millions of readers. More contemporary are the writings of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer, which carry seeds of greatness.

The passage above comes from the book’s chapter on “Reading.” If you would like to see more, the entire book (although published as recently as 1992) is legally available for your review online.

“Shut up he explained” may not be proper English, but literature doesn’t need to be proper to be entertaining. And even though Lardner is no longer a familiar name, perhaps his writings are worth visiting.

For the moment, knowing the context of this delightful phrase makes the words all the more entertaining to me. After all, like many others, my dad often “explained” the same thing to me!

marshianWhenever I have an appointment with a doctor, I try to remember to bring along my own magazine or (better yet) the current writing project with which I’m wrestling. Unfortunately, I’m often in a hurry, and sometimes forget . . . which means I need to rely on that odd potpourri of dated magazines that typically migrate to medical waiting rooms.

This week found me in precisely this precarious predicament. I arrived rather early in my dentist’s office, and it turned out that he was slightly behind schedule. Not the best of circumstances. I approached the magazine rack with trepidation.

To my delight I saw a Reader’s Digest with a cover article about “Fifty Dumb Boss Stories.” Having worked for my share of dullards, I thought this should be entertaining. The fact that it included comments from Dwight Schrute of The Office made it just that much more promising.

I wasn’t disappointed. Among the many silly acts recorded in the article were a collection of malaprops voiced by witless bosses. Here are a few:

The Greek pyramids weren’t built in a day.

Spurt me out an email.

Let’s not put the horse before the cart.

We’re not preparing the report because it would be an exercise in fertility.

And my personal favorite, the elegantly mixed metaphor: “It’s not rocket surgery!” Nor is it, I suspect, brain science.

Most of us appreciate humor—even when it’s unintended. C.S. Lewis, in Reflections on the Psalms, wrote: “A little comic relief in a discussion does no harm, however serious the topic may be. (In my own experience the funniest things have occurred in the gravest and most sincere conversations.)”

Now, before ending this post, I need to point out one more truth. Dimwitted bosses aren’t the only people who stumble over words and meld images better left autonomous. Every one of us has occasionally experienced the proverbial “slip of the tongue,” and sometimes with quite entertaining results. Jokes—whether intentional or accidental—can all be appreciated. As the newly created Talking Animals of Narnia are told by Aslan:

“Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.” (The Magician’s Nephew).

Allow me to once again display my grammatical ignorance. I was reading an online book review and the author used lots of multisyllabic words. (That’s something I actually enjoy.) But then he went and threw in one of those words I had to rush to dictionary.com to define. (That’s another thing I love—learning new words.)

Naturally, I could partially decipher the definition from the context. However, whenever I have a dictionary within reach, that shortcut doesn’t satisfy me.

In this case, the word was anacolutha, the plural form of anacoluthon. It is defined as “a construction involving a break in grammatical sequence, as ‘It makes me so—I just get angry.’” Well, we can all agree that is not a good sentence; it’s a fine example of what a writer should avoid.

Not all grammar rules make sense. Take for example the notion that one cannot end a sentence with a preposition. Some of us literally had our knuckles rapped for scribbling such grammatical “obscenities.” While it’s true that you can avoid using prepositions in this manner, it’s not the great sin we were taught it was. In his Letters to an American Lady, C.S. Lewis writes:

[Regarding] a sentence ending with a preposition. The silly “rule” against it was invented by Dryden. I think he disliked it only because you can’t do it in either French or Latin which he thought more “polite” languages than English.

Well, isn’t that an interesting historical note to become aware of?

But, back to anacolutha . . . let’s see if it’s difficult for a trained pen to sever the ties of logic, and compose this sort of literary construction.

Reepicheep was a great swordsman who, “a tail is the honor and glory of a Mouse” was his creed.

Frodo pondered his options while—the Nazgûl loathed bathing more than once each fortnight.

Wow, that’s a lot harder than it looks. If you can think of better examples (not difficult, I’m sure), feel free to share them in a comment! But only write them here, and don’t allow any anacolutha to slip into your real writing!

Another Creative Outburst

March 11, 2012 — 1 Comment

…well, maybe not quite an “outburst.” Anyway, creating that “poster” for my last column proved a little too fun, and I had to revisit the website to invest a few more playful minutes. It took less time to draft the images below than it did to find the right graphics for each. Enjoy.

Powerful Words

January 3, 2012 — 5 Comments

Wow. Today I “enjoyed” the sensation that comes from seeing an archaic word we haven’t encountered for ages. This was a word my sainted mother used when my siblings and I were mere rugrats. No, that’s not the word. “Rugrats” remains in my unsainted father’s vocabulary to this very day. Today he uses it in reference to his great-grandchildren. Besides, it’s only been seven years since the eponymous television series aired its final episode.

The modest word which inspired this post is “rigmarole.” My child-recollection adds an extra syllable, an “a.” Ri-ga-ma-role . . . now there’s a word to evoke memories from many years ago. Ah, and a further internet search reveals my mom wasn’t mispronouncing the word, she was simply using a variant.

She used the word in its primary context. Elaborate or lengthy procedures. Actually, it is through the second meaning of the word that I encountered it this morning. It is also defined as “confused, incoherent, foolish or meaningless talk.”

It’s in this context—referring to useless jargon—that C.S. Lewis describes the crippling effect of rigamarole. He writes:

“Stone walls cannot a prison make

Half so secure as rigmarole.”

Thus concludes one of C.S. Lewis’ delightful poems, entitled “The Prudent Jailer.” When I trace the quotation back to its source I encounter a wonderful poem I had never before read. And, ironically, the poem begins with a reference to “nostalgia,” the very sensation Lewis’ word choice evoked in me.

“Always the old nostalgia? Yes

We still remember times before

We had learned to wear the prison dress

Or steel rings rubbed our ankles sore.”

The master Inkling has once again impressed upon me the immense power of words. Rightly chosen words. Well woven together, their symbiosis can be awe-inspiring.

Wielded by the anointed, words can be powerful enough to tear down the stone walls our Jailer uses to imprison us . . . dark walls designed to bar us from the radiant freedom God has created us to enjoy.