In which Carrie considers the supernatural realm…
I’ve just been reading the most delightful little book. Somewhere in the Ideal world of Forms* exists a perfect manual for good use of what I’ll generally label “grammar.” I find myself privy to such perfection by a god of correct English convention usage. He is William Strunk Jr., and it is The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, co-authored by Charlotte’s Web author E. B. White. This pocket companion measures 17.5 centimeters by 11.5 centimeters and is .75 centimeters thick. (I measure it in metric because this is SCIENCE!)
Normally I would not be attracted to such a little book. I go for thick, epic novels or non-fiction which serves my scientific and skeptical leanings. Neither would my first choice be a text on how my native language should look in writing. But this one yelled at me from a shelf, and given that I’ve declared myself a writer, I heeded its authority.
Direct and command he does, this Strunk Jr. His voice is of cheerful military caliber, and, for once, I appreciate such a voice. I have been so lucky to have learned to love writing from teachers who probably hated teaching grammar (et. al.) as much as their students hated learning it. This means I have no recollection of ever being specifically taught what should be automatic for me at this age, but I have memories of my praises being sung because of authentic expression, albeit painful to read, from my enthusiastic and unbridled younger days. Strunk writes:
“Rules 3, 4, 5, and 6 cover the most important principles that govern punctuation. They should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.” (7).
I’ve often thought about what skills I have which are automatic, and those which I have had to learn the hard way. I realize I could have bypassed tense minutes spent in slow-flowing composition trying to know when to use a semicolon or comma. Some of these important rules are:
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
5. Don’t join independent clauses with a comma.
6. Do not break sentences in two.
But what is a clause? Let’s get back to the title: “Why Did Santa’s Elves Go on a Labor Strike?”
Answer: Because they were tired of being subordinate clauses.
Now, this implies that Santa might be a bit of a micro-manager, or it could just be that since he is the unrivaledSuperiorclause, his Subordinates merely serve him as extra details to his existence, but they aren’t worth that much. Consider this sentence:
The elves rose up against their boss, partly for higher wages, partly for their pride of being put to better use. Here commas are used to add description to the power of the main clause.
But say the joke was written, “Why did Santa’s elves admire and respect him?” with the answer being, “because they liked being independent clauses,.” This story might be different.
Here is a case where Santa’s best interests are in the interests of his workers. He may be called democratic and ask them to perform functions which they are capable or most skilled. They might be happy because they are driven by an inherent desire to work for the good of the whole without the administration of unjust demands from a dictator.
These independent clauses, then, would take the form of equally important clauses, often separated by a semi-colon as in rule 5, rephrased as: join independent clauses with a semi-colon; they are complete and important thoughts closely linked to each other, as a unit. The last three words, if I’m not mistaken, comprise a subordinate clause.
Santa asked his elves to work as a team to develop a new product line; they were happy to take on this project as if it belonged to them equally.
I’m sure in the coming weeks, months and years I’ll be practicing these skills, and others, found in this little book. Mostly I just want to get to the point where I won’t have to think, and painfully second-guess my grammar usage–that it will become automatic, mastered, and involuntary. I can then devote my thoughts to what is below the surface of my mind and wants to get out creatively and intelligently. No doubt this is a newer development for me: to practice the forms so they may be easier on readers’ eyes.
I wonder if I’m suddenly self-righteous here, like a grammarpolicewoman of Strunk’s ancient, yet alive, army. When Cervantes wrote, “Forewarned is forearmed,” I think this little book will serve its $10.99 purpose in saving me from future grammar angst and I can use my time and labor more independently.
*Forms: Plato. Example: A drawn triangle is a mere, or imperfect, copy of the Ideal triangle, again Plato.