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Wednesday, 21 June 2006


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Adam Roberts

To follow the link for the Parker collection is to uncover the amazon 'these other books may be of interest to you' selection, based ... is this right? ... on your recent amazon searches and purchases. If that is what the links hows, that's a pretty wholesome selection: all those books are high fibre and stuffed with vitamins. Not a sugar-rich or additive-added book (let's say, rubbishly SF, comic book, Bumper Book of Sudoku) anywhere to be seen. The metaphorical bowels of your reading-mind must be extraordinarily regular.

Scott Eric Kaufman

I'm not sure what it shows, but I'd wager that if you're a regular Amazon customer and are logged in, it probably shows some cominbation of your recent searches and purchases with whatever their algorithm says people who like Dorothy Parker may also like. For the record, I'm pulling up:

The Complete Jane Austen

Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle (DVD)

The Criterion Collection's Complete Mr. Arkadin (a.k.a. Confidential Report) (DVD)

History Lessons for Girls, by Aurelie Sheehan

The Dorothy Parker Audio Collection

The Foreign Correspondent, by Alan Furst

The Critereon Collection's Viridiana (DVD)

American Movie Critics, by Philip Lopate

My Life in France, by Julia Child

What about the rest of you?

Adam Roberts

Now, this is interesting. I followed your suggestion, and found a list of 'recommendations', which I take to be books similar to books I've already bought. Except I havn't bought books or DVDs like any of these ... they're all my wife, using my account to stock up on school-teachery-materials.

Of Mice And Men [1992]
DVD ~ John Malkovich

Genres: A Collection of Styles and Forms (Longman Imprint Books)
by Geoff Barton (Editor), Michael Marland (Editor)

The Wolf Man/Werewolf Of London [1935]
DVD ~ The Wolf Man/Werewolf of London

Dracula / House Of Dracula [1931]
DVD ~ Dracula/House of Dracula

The Art of Howl's Moving Castle (Studio Ghibli Library)
by Hayao Miyazaki, Hayao

Invisible Man, The / Phantom Of The Opera
DVD Release Date: October 18, 2004

Willy the Wizard
by Anthony Browne (2003)

Twelfth Night [1996]
DVD ~ Trevor Nunn

Key Stage 3 Framework Focus: Spelling Year 7 (Key Stage 3 Framework Focus)
by Louis Fidge, Ray Barker

Developing Poetry Skills: Reading Poetry 11-14
by Geoff Barton
Publication Date: September 11, 1998

The Tempest (Arden Shakespeare S.)
by William Shakespeare, et al.

Learning to Teach in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience (Learning to Teach in the Secondary School S.)
by Susan Capel, et al.

The title that caught my eye in that list is 'Willy Wizard'; but it turns out to be a children's book about a gorilla called Willy who becomes a wizard, rather than the guidebook to help us spice up our bedroom life that I initially suspected. Otherwise it's all either extraordinary dull teaching textbooks, or else films that I guess Rachel shows her kids. To scare them, maybe. (Actually I know she taught Frankenstein last term, and I guess she bought the DVD of same as a teaching aid; and the Mighty Computer of amazon now thinks she likes buying DVDs of old horror films).

I thought I bought a fair few books through amazon. But as far as their software is concerned, it's all my wife, and not me at all.

Vance Maverick

Help me out, Scott. I think what you call a "comma splice" here is actually correct. With nouns, we can have "bell and book", or "bell, book and candle". Generalizing to phrases, I think we can have "John eats[,] and Mary sighs", or "John eats, Mary sighs, and the cat stretches." In particular, "sentence, sentence" is OK (I claim) if it's followed by ", and sentence", as in Parker's example. What am I missing?

The only actual violation I feel here (apart from two typos) is that the first period should be a colon, to clarify that what follows is the referent of "this".

Scott Eric Kaufman

Adam, you'll never learn what Amazon really wants you to buy until you cut the cord. Do it, my boy, do it! (That said, much of what's recommended to me is done so because I've needed a hyperlink to a book, some of which I haven't/won't soon/won't ever read, so I suppose I should be more forgiving.)

Vance, you actually caught me there. I was too tired to explain the entire exercise. First, I have them read some of her more famous witticisims—"This novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but hurled with great force"— then I present this:

It may be held in the hand without causing muscular fatigue or nerve strains, it may be neatly balanced back of the faucets.

I get them to admit that, since she shows a mastery of language, that she can get away with that comma splice, even though it sounds ackward. The confess that the rhythm of the sentence led them to expect another clause, but that there must be some reason she decided to end it there. Then I show them the rest of the quotation, they feel like they've been had, but they've learned a lesson. (Well, two. Lesson #1: Don't trust your teacher. Lesson #2: Ungrammatical sentences and/or sentence structures can be used for effect.) Admittedly, I use this sentence for the "gotcha" effect; were I to just show them, say, McPhee using an ungrammatical construction, they might remember it, but it wouldn't stick. If I do a dog-and-pony show, they'll remember not only the show, but also the point of it. I call it "manipulative pedagogy," and it seems to work.

Vance Maverick

So you truncate the sentence, making it violate the rules. Your students detect this (whether because of "rhythm" or simply having internalized the rules). You then reveal that they were right, and that the real sentence follows the rules they know.

I think the gotcha here is that you seemed to be arguing that "you have to know the rules to break them" -- but you're really teaching "you have to know the rules", or perhaps just "you know the rules".

Scott Eric Kaufman

I'm doing a couple of things, none of which were indicated in the original post:

1. Teaching them what a comma splice is--many don't know--and how to recognize one.

2. Building their confidence a little by demonstrating that they a) already sort of know what it is and b) that they can recognize when the rhythm of a sentence is off and 3) that maybe, just maybe, they'll be able to manipulate it themselves.

3. Showing them that ungrammatical sentence structures can be used for effect.

4. Springing the actual sentence on them, concretizing all the work I've done above via a single, memorable (but not mean-spirited) deception.

5. Moving into a discussion of the difference between ending a conjunctive clause with "comma-comma-comma-and" or "comma-comma-and," i.e. continuing the discussion about pacing.

I did, however, flub the commentary above, and since "too tired to not post crap" is one of the reasons I've started posting these commonsplaces, I hope you'll forgive me the crap I did post below the wonderful Parker quotation. (Not that I'm much sharper today, mind you.)

Vance Maverick

All is forgiven, all is understood.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Vance, there's no need to "forgive" when you point out a mistake. Seriously. I'm not infallable. It's a Wednesnay, I made a mistake. Now it's Thursday, so it's pretty much guaranteed I'll make another. Same thing holds for Friday, as well as the rest of the lot.

Vance Maverick

You hope for forgiveness, I grant it, you disclaim it....maybe we are too tired.

Vance Maverick

So here's a real splice for you:

If she did, she need not coin her smiles so lavishly, flash her glances so unremittingly, manufacture airs so elaborate, graces so multitudinous. (Jane Eyre, ch. 18.)

It's a bit awkward. The shift in the unit of repetition (from verb phrase to noun phrase) doesn't register immediately, because "manufacture airs so elaborate" seems like a third in the series of verb phrases -- arriving at "graces", I feel for a moment that she's dropped a verb.


Vance, what led you to choose that sentence? I'm curious. (Though I don't see anything particularly odd about it.)

Vance Maverick

I'm rereading Jane Eyre. After we had discussed comma splices, I picked up where I had left off, and this jumped out at me immediately.

I have a misgiving about the sentence, and I could enlarge on that, but for now I'll just say that, according to the rules I was taught (or assimilated), it's not correct. (I don't take grammatical correctness all that seriously in itself, of course, except as part of the ideal of transparency in technical or documentary writing.)


Technically, it's faulty parallelism. But who cares? It's a minor bending of grammatical rules and sounds perfectly fine to me, much better than repeating "manufacture" at the beginning of the last clause.

Vance Maverick

[Vance, I think this unsigned comment's yours, since it came from the same IP address.]

The parallelism is faulty at first glance. But then (I claim) it resolves itself, into

If she did, she need not

  1. coin her smiles so lavishly,
  2. flash her glances so unremittingly,
  3. manufacture
    1. airs so elaborate,
    2. graces so multitudinous.

which is pretty tidy. The aesthetic problem (in my view) is that this reading doesn't become clear until you've reached the last word or so. The technical defect (again, I'm not an expert) is that she doesn't use a conjunction in either list.


"elaborate" might be the key word in that sentence.

Jonathan Mayhew

I would object to the word "grammar" in this context. Grammar is the deep structure of the language. Whether to use a comma or semi-colon in a particular case is a convention of usage that doesn't really have anything to do with "grammar" per se.

Agassi won 8 grand slams, Sampras won 14.

Surely that is as "grammatical" as

Agassi won 8 grand slams; Sampras won 14.

A good writer will use a comma in this case, I believe: a semi-colon would be pedantic not to say tone-deaf.

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