As I see it, being parodied is a pretty reliable barometer of success. For an up-to-the-minute example, we need look no further than Psy and the 33,000+ parodies his Gangnam Style song/video has spawned. When Weird Al Yankovic hitched his wagon to the parody star, he chose the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson for his material. So it pleased me to learn, when opening my birthday presents last week, that Lynne Truss’s 2006 diatribe against bad punctuation, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, had made enough of a mark to warrant a parody.
I have extolled Truss’s virtues in one my previous posts, so I’ll simply add this: Amid the meterological, economical and political storms rocking the globe, you’ve got to admire a woman who cares about commas and expounds on apostrophes – someone who understands, in other words, that instructions for saving our planet can be no mightier than the language they’re clothed in.
Eats, Shites and Leaves doesn’t disappoint, either. The inside flap describes the book as “a celebration of all things shite about the misuse of English, highlighting the prevalence of absent apostrophes, ghastly grammar, suspect sentences and rambling repetitiveness.” In other words, the book I should have written. It’s the sort of book that merits a permanent spot on a word lover’s night table. When you need a break from reading about melting polar ice, just flip it open at random and you’re practically guaranteed a chuckle.
In a section called Carping On, the author, who goes by A. Parody, poses linguistic questions most of us have probably never considered: Do you find it reassuring that doctors call what they do practice? Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds? Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?
Some of the book’s “rules of good writing” come right out of my playbook, such as: a) eschew obfuscation, b) employ the vernacular, and c) hopefully you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them. In a similar vein, the book offers up common pleonasms, such as usual custom, revert back, and final conclusion, for the reader’s cackling pleasure.
Sprinkling the book are quotes from famous verbal bumblers, with George W. Bush and Dan Quayle taking centre-stage. Here’s a sampling: “They say this issue wouldn’t resignate with the people. They’ve been proved wrong, it does resignate.” [Bush] “My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will never, never surrender to what is right.” [Quayle] And the pièce de résistance: “The illiteracy level of our children are appalling.” [Bush]
If you like euphemisms, you’ll find enough of them to fit any situation requiring decorum. When it’s unseemly to refer to someone as crazy, for instance, you can say “a sandwich short of a picnic.” And forget “doing the nasty” as a euphemism for having sex – that’s so yesterday. Instead, you can say “parallel parking” or “fixing the plumbing.”
I hope I’ve given the die-hard word nerds among you enough of a taste that you’ll do the ka-ching thing and buy the book. And no, A. Parody is not me. Would that it were.