The Devil’s Details: And & And & And

getimage.phpA friend of mine wrote the other day the following:

We all know that that so isn’t how it works.

It amused me, but also seemed to be (as far as I can tell) grammatically fine. It led to the response:

I’m glad that that that that amused you.

Even better.

I came across this article the other day on Mental Floss. It has some further examples of grammatical weirdness:

  • The horse raced past the barn fell.
  • The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.
  • The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.

And of course my favorite:

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

In case you need help with that one, “buffalo” can mean the animal, the city, and the action “to buffalo” (i.e. to bully or intimidate).

But, I believe I have one to top all of that, and it’s true, too. Here is a sentence with the word “and” in it five times in a row:

There’s too much space between north and and and and and son.

Got it? No?

This relates to my grandfather’s business in North Yorkshire. When the eldest son came of age, he needed to change the business sign from North to North & Son. When the sign maker came back, the words had been crushed together:


Enraged, he returned to the sign maker the next morning with the words:

There’s too much [bloody] space between North and & and & and Son!

I never knew if they got it fixed.


Like this.

The War on Smileys, LOLs and ROFLs

I read an article some time ago denouncing the excessive use of exclamation marks (not to be confused with the article I read on the lack of the use of interrobangs). His exclamatophobia was centered around the use of multiple exclamations (!!!!) in written dialogue, particularly in the informal text-speech of online chat rooms, Facebook posts and tweets. Having recently had a friend criticize my use of a single exclamation mark (at a point where I felt it entirely appropriate), I find myself in concordance with this view. Imagine yourself speaking the text you’ve written: would you, in fact, be exclaiming it?

This textual sin, of course, is secondary to the all-caps SHOUT. I shudder.

However, to the exaggerated punctuation of our linguistically declining culture I would like to add a couple more appallingly inaccurate digital metaphors. These have been banished (as much as possible) from my online vocabulary for both their lack of literacy and their overly-distended representation of reality.

I should preface this by saying that I wasn’t always so enlightened. I used to PMSL all the time, allong with ROFLing and LOLing (though my naivety was great – it was some time before someone explained to me that LOL didn’t stand for Lots Of Love; I suddenly felt quite a lot less popular). These misunderstandings are one great reason to avoid such abbreviations; at the very least, spell them out.

Do you actually roll on the floor laughing? Did you, in fact, laugh out loud at the unsurprisingly witless and crude crack your friend made after a night out on the town? Indeed, would you utter “what the f***” out loud (actually, I suppose some of you might; to each their own). (A sin you can see I haven’t yet escaped is the parenthetical). If the answer to these questions is no, why did you imply so to your friend by text or tweet? Was it a desire to appear far more energetic than you actually feel, as you sit in front of the screen at 6:45 AM desperately gulping as much caffeine as you can?

Another deliciously malevolent word-killer is the emoticon: those cringe-worthy smiles, winks, tongues and frowns that unavoidably litter our digital forums. I am not a winker; nor do I stick my tongue out on a regular basis. My frowns are significantly deeper than a slight downwards slant of the eyebrows (indeed, I find the Spock-like countenance difficult to emulate). And I certainly do not spread my mouth as wide as possible to indicate surprise; a slight raise of the eyebrows is sufficient for this.

As I have begun increasingly to write on a serious level, I’ve realized that, more than a simple expression of fun, these abbreviations and icons had begun a decline in my literary fluency. I came to the realization that there is nothing that can’t be said in words – real, genuine words – that can be expressed otherwise. When I am angry or astonished, I may judiciously use an exclamation mark. If I am taken aback, I may even take to using interrobangs. But never again (maybe) will I pepper my written dialogue with anything other than words drawn from the English dictionary (yes, I realize LOL has made its way into several reputable tomes; their downfall).

I challenge you – can you make it a week without using any of these items?

P.S. (Post Script) You are more than welcome to use LOLs and :-)s in your comments, providing their intention is ironic.