Proving grammar can be funny

Published 7:22 pm Thursday, May 20, 2021

“Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.”—William Safire

ROLLING FORK — No, I do not think myself the next William Safire, though that distinguished man of letters would certainly be a superior role model for anyone with anything more than a casual affection for the English language.

Safire, who graced some of the more elevated niches of American society from 1929 to 2009, may quite possibly have been the last true Republican Renaissance man — author, master of repartee’, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, speech writer of such talent as to almost (if not quite) lend a touch of eloquence to the utterings of Richard Nixon and lexophile par excellence.

He not only wrote a regular feature in the New York Times on language, but also a couple of books on the subject too often thought dry by too many, that were moistened considerably by his wit as keen as a rapier’s tip.

So, you think you want to write for a living? Think that would be a snap? Read “How Not to Write:  The Essential Misrules of Grammar,” and be ready to be both chastened and disabused of the notion.

I sometimes think that grammar and the parts of speech are like the opposite of algebra in the brain left/right discussion, with the difference being that if cleverly enough approached, the language can be made humorous, whereas there is just not one damn thing funny about the math. To that end, with the enormous aid of a dear friend of longstanding (Kindly note I did not fall into one of Safire’s word traps by calling her an “old friend,” for which I might not live long enough to merit forgiveness.), what follows are examples of what paying attention all those years in English class combined with some cleverness can produce. Of course, I am afraid it really does indicate the truth of what Kurt Vonnegut once observed: “If you want to break the rules of grammar, first learn the rules of grammar.”

And so, dedicated to the hard-working English teachers everywhere, enjoy:

• An Oxford comma walks into a bar where it spends the evening watching the television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.

• A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.

• An oxymoron walked into a bar and the silence was deafening.

• A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

• Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

• (One of my two favorites.) A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

• Hyperbole totally rips into this  insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.

• A question mark walks into a bar?

• A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

• Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out, we don’t serve your type.”

• A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.

• A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

• Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.

• A synonym strolls into a tavern.

• At the end of the day, a cliche’ walks into a bar—fresh as a daisy, cute as a button and sharp as a tack.

• A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.

• Falling softly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.

• A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.

• An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.

• The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.

• A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.

• The past, present and future walk into a bar. It was tense.

• A dyslexic walks into a bra.

• A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.

• A simile walks into a bar, as parched as the desert.

• A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.

And being a fan of such, this one is my other favorite: A hyphenated word and non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.