Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Kick in the Comma-But

I thought some dumb things when I was 8 or 9.  Back in Enid, Oklahoma, in the 1950s I once saw a newspaper headline about a Sadistic Killing.  I read the story (it was brutal, I remember), then asked my mom what a SAY-duh-sak killing was.  She was so baffled (my word-attack skills obviously needed some attention) that I had to show her the headline, and I wish for all the world I could remember what her answer was.

What I remember instead?  The killer (still at large at the time) had his name (what was it?) tattooed on the tops of his fingers--one letter per finger.  So until they caught the guy (did they? or did I just grow tired of it all?), I was checking out the fingers of every man I saw anywhere--from the grocery store to the public buses to the church sanctuary.  (Perhaps I gave my dad's fingers a quick look, too?  And Grandpa ... surely not he ... !)  I figured there was a reward, but I also didn't want any SAY-duh-sak killer practicing his craft on me!  Certainly not in church.

There were other words I screwed up, punctuation I didn't figure out for a long time (semicolons, en-dashes), usage conventions I didn't know (like or as, anyone? comprise or compose?), spelling issues (I still have to look up occurrence every time I use it), words that put my stuttering in the limelight (statistics was a killer--still is, actually; don't ask me to say it aloud for you), words I didn't pronounce properly--for years (coccyx, for example--the tailbone; I'd always said KOSS-iks.  Guess what?  It's KOK-siks.  Sounds naughty, I know, which is probably why our public school science teachers taught us the wrong pronunciation: Imagine a room full of adolescent males chanting KOK-siks! KOK-siks! KOK-siks!  Then, admonished by the teacher, claiming they were just working on their science vocab, you know?  Kind of like reading an old nautical novel and coming across poop deck.  Such a poop appears in Melville's "Benito Cereno," and my juniors always enjoyed that part of the story.  One of my favorites in the story:

Ere long, with a joyless mien, looking up towards the poop, the host
invited his guest to accompany him there, for the benefit of what little
breath of wind might be stirring.

Or this one ...

He had descended from the poop, and, wrapped in thought ...

Or this ...

... and so, amid various grins and grimaces, returned to the poop, feeling a
little strange at first, he could hardly tell why ...

But let's get serious.

One convention of spoken English I mastered very quickly is the dreaded comma-but.  EXAMPLES: I appreciate your concern, but I'd rather do it myself.  I'd like to go to the prom with you, but your best friend just asked me. I'm glad you liked The Da Vinci Code, but it's crap.  Etc.

I very soon learned this convention, and I am now claiming my interpretation of it as Dyer's Law: In any comma-but construction, the true meaning of the sentence follows the comma-but.

You may disagree with me, but if you do, I hope you fall on the poop deck, get a bruised coccyx, and have to share a bunk in the sickbay with a SAY-duh-sak killer.


BONUS: Captain Delano advanced to the forward edge of the poop ...

1 comment: