Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good Opening Lines & Words that Aren't Verbs

It dawns on me that yesterday’s headline was poorly phrased. Permit me to clarify.

Anne Rice did not quit Dr. Seuss sneakers, just Christianity.

Another full trough today, let’s begin:
1. Entertainment Weekly lists 20 classic literary opening lines.

Most of the books indisputably deserve their spot on the list. You already know the opening to Moby-Dick and A Tale of Two Cities, even if you never cracked their cover. Other worthwhile entries include Fahrenheit 451, The Bell Jar and my personal favorite opener, Anna Karenina. Even most of the newer selections like The Color Purple and A River Runs Through It are well chosen.

I only question one inclusion: Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book.

Great openers should be iconic or, in lieu of that, immediately memorable.

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife” is evocative. It’s interesting, but it’s not classic.

That’s not even Gaiman’s best opener. I prefer Stardust’s “There was a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire” to “There was a hand in the darkness.”

“Shadow had done three years in prison” from American Gods might trump them both. At least it doesn’t begin with “there was a,” which are three of the worst words with which to begin a story.

2. The Word offers its take on nouns that are commandeered as verbs.

While it may be a pet peeve for the grammatically conservative, writer Erin McKean argues for the malleability of language.

“The history of English, however, suggests that the language is remarkably flexible in terms of what can be verbed ... Objections to verbification in English tend to be motivated by personal taste, not clarity. Verbed words are usually easily understood. When a word like friend is declared not a verb, the problem isn’t that it’s confusing; it’s that the protester finds it deeply annoying.”

That last sentence cut me to the quick because I do find the verb “friend” deeply annoying.

McKean’s column was, in part, a response to the site notaverb.com.

Notaverb aims its vitriol at compound words like backup, cutoff, login, shutdown and startup.

Frankly, both McKean and Notaverb are right. Language is always changing, but “login” isn’t a verb. Neither are “shutdown” and “startup.” They are phrases, smashing a verb and preposition together. However, any outfielder would argue that “backup” is a verb, especially when a coach says it.

3. Remember Dave Holmes?

He was that guy who wanted to be an MTV VJ but lost to Jesse Camp. Then, he had a longer and more memorable MTV career than Camp.

He’s going to spend a year reading nothing but stunt books about how people did something for a year. Then, he’s going to write a book about it. In the meantime, he’s blogging about it.

I think this means that stunt books have gone metatextual.

4. This is a zedonk. It is what happens when a donkey and zebra procreate.

I can’t tell if it’s adorable or an affront to God.

Yeah, that last thing had nothing to do with books, but it makes you think.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. Let's see which tag I reuse first, "zedonk" or "jesse camp."

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