Work of Art — Sleeping through English class

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By Art Trujillo

Pop Quiz: Who can name all 10 reindeer? Yes, 10 of them. I’m sure most people will come up with Dasher and Dancer, Hansel and Gretel, Comet and Cupid, Sleepy and Bashful, but there is a tenth whose name will appear at the end.

Is it just me (or, as my English teacher would say, “Is it just I?”), who becomes giddy this time year, knowing 40 reindeer paws will land on my roof in a couple of weeks? Here are some observations I’ve made over the years:
Sunday night, we spent a couple of hours enjoying an all-female Irish group called the Celtic Woman, who sang Christmas carols. Notice I didn’t write “Holiday Carols.” This group of young women with such beautiful voices used words like “Gentlemen” in “God rest ye merry,” and not “Gentle-persons.”

They sang the carols as they must have been written originally, long before “political correctness” became an issue. And we heard other terms like “men” and “boys and girls,” without anybody’s attempt to neuter the terms.

And on Facebook, there are people posting notes indicating they like “Christmas” and we should use it, while eschewing “holidays.”

I don’t feel too strongly on these terms; to me, December ­— and even year-’round ­— is all about good will, peace, love and harmony.

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I slept through grammar classes at Immaculate Conception School,  dozing off to the tune of a long unit on diagramming sentences. I’ve made this argument many times: Diagramming sentences is a waste of time. The only justification I can find is that most grammar books have a teacher’s manual with the answers in back, like some math books.

I believe the fact that there can be a “right” and a “wrong” way to diagram a sentence gives rise to the popularity the subject used to have. The classroom of my sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mucha Grammatica, featured blackboards filled with students’ attempts at diagramming.

The exercise was ostensibly to teach 1) relationships of words, 2) subordination and 3) where the subject is or should be.

But does the best diagrammer of sentences ultimately become Hemingway or Faulkner? I believe that for too long, people have believed you can’t write well unless you know all the silly grammatical terms like gerund, participle, predicate nominative and the dative case. I used the dative case only when I looked for a prom date.

Days ago I saw this posting on Facebook:

Your wrong its not that way when he said I want to run for rep he didnt mean it you need to check your fats more carefully.

In a stretch, the Facebook posting is understandable, but all my previous English teachers would be stirring in their graves over such a construction.

Language has many rules. Perhaps the most confusing deal with quotation marks. My friend and fellow columnist, Lupita Gonzales, has excoriated me for misusing one of the terms, in print. “The word is ‘quotation,’ not ‘quote,’” she insists. She says I should use “quote” as a verb and “quotation” as a noun. And she added that “There are no such things as ‘quote’ marks, just ‘quotation’ marks.”

So I ask her, “May I quotation you on that?” That exchange called to mind an exercise which I now ask readers to wrestle with. I placed it on Facebook and got various replies, ranging from, “I used to know it, but I’ve forgotten,” to “Does it even matter?” to “You must be kidding!!!!”

The sentence I ask you to punctuate might appear as merely a string of 11 instances of “had.” Regardless, can you punctuate it?

Smith, where Jones had had had had had had had had had had had the teacher’s approval.

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The 10th reindeer’s name is “Olive,” as in “Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.”

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com. or art@rezio.net