Tag Archives: The Guardian

Punctuation Pays! (Now Crime Will, Too)

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Not since Lynne Truss published Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation have I laughed so hard at something so small: an ear-shaped part of punctuation.

Writing for The Guardian, Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) penned a fantastic piece entitled “Oxford comma helps drivers win dispute about overtime pay.” Who, the, what, the, where? The situation basically came down to this:

“In Maine, the much-disputed Oxford comma has helped a group of dairy drivers in a dispute with a company about overtime pay.

In a judgment that will delight Oxford comma enthusiasts everywhere, a US court of appeals sided with delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy because the lack of a comma made part of Maine’s overtime laws too ambiguous.”

Why the big deal, then? Well, consider an example Ms. Truss uses right there in her title. What’s the definition of a panda?

Panda: Eats shoots and leaves.

Panda: Eats, shoots and leaves.

With the former, we’ve got a cuddly bear that consumes bamboo and some shrub leaves. In the case of the latter, we’ve got a gangsta’ bear gone rogue, gun in hand, as it fires away and takes its leave. Done and done yo! Sorry, Done and done, yo!

Another example offered as damning evidence of that damned comma rearing its head (or not) in The Guardian article comes from what appears to be a book’s Acknowledgements section, in which the author wants to thank four special people. Or is it, in fact, two?

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

According to the punctuation, it sure as Shirley looks like the author won the parent lottery and got a Russian-American author as a mother and the Supreme Being as a Father. Sweet!

Anyway, you can read the article for yourself, or not, and then ponder the role and importance of commas, or perhaps ignore the issue, before scratching your head and asking yourself, Does a comma really demand this much respect?

Best ask Oakhurst Dairy for the answer. They’re the ones now on the hook for overtime pay because of that wily pest that, it seems, just won’t, you know, go away, even if you beg it to just fall into a coma, or maybe…

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Quote of the Day

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“[H]uman consciousness has been reduced to a panicked blur, a zoetrope of galloping despair.”

I love this line! I didn’t even know what on god’s green earth a “zoetrope” was before reading it this morning and I STILL loved it. Awesomeness as its most awesome.

This quote comes from an op-ed by Lindy West in The Guardian yesterday called “The first 25 days of Trump have been a zoetrope of galloping despair.” The preamble is as follows:

Today, during my morning routine of opening my laptop, clicking on literally anything, and just screaming and screaming, I made the astonishing discovery that Donald Trump has only been president of the United States for about three weeks. Which is weird, because I could have sworn we had fallen through a tesseract into the airless crush of a two-dimensional void at least seven eternities ago, or what would have constituted seven eternities if such a place had a linear concept of time. Turns out, though, it has only been 25 days, we are still on earth, and every cell in my body has not been excruciatingly flattened into pure math. It just feels like it.

It’s an understandable mistake, I think. Trump has really been eat-pray-loving his way through his first month as the most dangerous man on earth, seeding so many potential atrocities – including, perhaps, the breakdown of the republic itself – that human consciousness has been reduced to a panicked blur, a zoetrope of galloping despair. There are simply too many emergencies to hold all of them in your mind at once. Cecily Strong captured the feeling on this week’s Saturday Night Live: “Let me just say, you’re doing too much. I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me.”

Spicy Spice might like using dolls to explain things to the media on a certain TV show, but with Donnie T. I think his pictures speak more words than any painter at anytime in history could ever evoke if not for the T.’s sage choice in art.

I’m not really sure what that means exactly, but here goes my poor attempt to capture the essence of it.

This is your brain.

Image result for the human brain

This is your brain in the Donnie T. era

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Perseverance

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Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, but impending death can be just as powerful a source of inspiration when it comes to creation.

Today, I think it’s fair to say that almost everybody in the West is familiar with some part of George Orwell’s writings, even if it is unconsciously through such thought-provoking shows as Big Brother.

While Orwell is still famous all these decades on for works including Animal Farm, it is undoubtedly Nineteen Eighty-Four that continues to resonate with us more than any of his other stories. Perhaps not surprisingly, especially for those who believe in life mirroring art (and vice versa), the road to completing Orwell’s opus was nothing short of heartbreakingly tragic – and yet somehow uplifting, if for no other reason than the sheer determination he showed in getting down on paper what would quickly become one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.

As Robert McCrum noted in an article for The Guardian titled “The masterpiece that killed George Orwell,” Mr. McCrum “tells the compelling story of Orwell’s torturous stay on the [remote Scottish] island where the author, close to death and beset by creative demons, was engaged in a feverish race to finish the book.”

In a nutshell (stress the nut in this “shell”), Orwell suffered through the misery of living in wartime London in the lead-up to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, what with the bombings, the rations, and the constant fear of death in some variety. Then his flat was torn asunder by doodlebugs (i.e. his apartment was destroyed by termite-like bugs) just after he and his wife Eileen adopted their only child, Richard. Then, two months before VE Day and the end of the war in Europe, his wife died under anesthesia during a routine operation.

Penniless, suffering from ill health as a result of his chest/lung problems, and heartbroken at the loss of his wife at such a young age, the widower and single parent traveled to the island of Jura, Scotland, where his friend and boss from The Observer owned an estate he said Orwell could use to pen his next novel.

While living and writing on the inhospitable rock (“mountainous, bare and infertile, covered largely by vast areas of blanket fog”), Orwell nearly drowned one day while out with his son, only to develop TB and be mostly bedridden for the rest of his days. No matter how sluggish his days, however, Orwell crept along and finished what initially he called The Last Man in Europe, but later settled on as Ninety Eighty-Four.

As he wrote years earlier in an essay, almost presaging this final dance with his craft:

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality.”

By the end of 1948, when he submitted the manuscript, Orwell’s health was deteriorating quickly. Nonetheless, Ninety Eighty-Four was published on June 8, 1949 to huge acclaim, and people across the English-speaking world awoke that day to the opening line of a novel that has since become timeless: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Although he remarried in October 1948, any happiness he might have felt was short-lived; Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) died, alone, of a massive haemorrhage on January 21, 1950. And as despondent as his “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle” passage may seem, it did end on what Mr. McCrum called “that famous Orwellian coda.”

“Good prose is like a window pane.”

Amen.

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