Thursday, December 17, 2009

elements of style

On ICB today, JWB was talking about how the furnace repairman had exactly the right part for his ancient furnace, right there in his truck, and my friend Eric said:
10:47 <qq> once I was at henry's hunan and mentioned that my bike had a
broken turn signal stalk, and the owner said "be right back!"
and came back with onion pancakes and the correct replacement
I was just thinking this morning about the language I use in expressing myself, how much I rely on often-subtle cultural references, and how to express my personality in language (either English or Spanish) that Spanish speakers will understand clearly enough.

Reading Eric's line, it suddenly dawned on me that part of what makes my social group interesting and more fun is not just that we have stories like that, but that we tell them with a punchline that highlights what's absurd about the story. This style of speech is a subculture all its own, of Monty Python (e.g. the famous Parrot Sketch), the revolutionary TV cartoon The Simpsons, and writer Douglas Adams, whose tangled humor many of us had to read twice to see what he meant:

After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur's mind was beginning to reassemble itself from the shell-shocked fragments the previous day had left him with. He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject's brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The Nutri-Matic was designed and manufactured by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation whose complaints department now covers all the major landmasses of the first three planets in the Sirius Tau Star system.
See the resemblance?

The things I say don't always make immediate sense to other native English speakers, so it's interesting to think of how I can express my personality in less baroque ways.

No comments:

Post a Comment