A Quickie today. I harp on split infinitives every now and then (they’re okay to use) so I wasn’t going to use this comic, but then another one on the same day touched on the subject, so I can’t resist.
Brooke McEldowney of 9 Chickweed Lane is an erudite writer and comic artist, one of my favorites.
Okay, maybe this last one is about being a grammar nazi, but it does use an infinitive…
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Sometimes you have a word that together with another word modifies a noun immediately following it. You separate these words with a hyphen (actually you join them with that hyphen). So you can have an after-hours party, for example. You can do this with more than two words, too, such as an after-the-fact pronouncement. I don’t recommend that you get carried away, but it is possible to do, as Brooke McEldowney demonstrates by describing a remarkable quandary in his excellent comic, 9 Chickweed Lane:
Maybe this falls into the category of hyperbole.
Three things about these compound adjectives:
- If you leave off the hyphen it means something different. In my first example above, without the hyphen you end up being after something called an hours party, whatever that is.
- Really common compounds often end up becoming single words. We used to have pre-nuptial agreements, but now it’s a prenuptial agreement. Same for pickup truck. Even “today” used to be “to-day.”
- Don’t hyphenate if it’s not an adjective. You can do something after the fact. And you can party after hours!
PS. I just started to re-read a book I had read as a teen-ager, The Egg and I by Betty McDonald. It was published in 1945, and made quite a mark at the time. They even made a movie out of it. The movie featured Ma and Pa Kettle, predecessors to the Beverly Hillbillies. But I digress. The first chapter of the book has this sentence; it serves as an example of the gentle humor typical of the book:
This I’ll-go-where-you-go-do-what-you-do-be-what-you-are-and-I’ll-be-happy philosophy worked out splendidly for Mother, for she followed my mining engineer father all over the United States and led a fascinating life; but not so well for me, because although I did what she told me and let Bob choose the work in which he felt he would be happiest and then plunged wholeheartedly in with him, I wound up on the Pacific Coast in the most untamed corner of the United States, with a ten-gallon keg of good whiskey, some very dirty Indians, and hundreds and hundreds of most uninteresting chickens.
I have posted selections from the works of Brooke McEldowney before, and I probably will in the future. The fellow is a master of the English language, music, drawing, and complicated plots. This time he touches upon interactions with editors and how to use “awhile” and “a while” correctly; inadvertently giving me an easy post, for which I thank him by encouraging all of you to check out his comics, 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn. They are really quite good.
(My apologies to Shakespeare for the title of this post; at least it’s grammatical.) I had planned another serious lesson for today, but this comic popped up. It mentions a grammatical issue I’ve been wanting to mention for a long time, correct use of “like” and “as.”
It’s not hard, really. We use both words for comparisons. Remember that “like” is a preposition, so it goes with nouns and pronouns. The trick is that with “as,” which is an adverb, we often leave out the verb, and all you see is a nearby noun. Perhaps you remember the book Black Like Me. The grammar of the title is correct. If you wanted “as” in that phrase, you’d have to say “Black as I.” Where’s the verb? It’s implied. You’re really saying “Black as I am.”
So maybe this is part of The Hard Part of Writing—you have to think about what you’re writing. Are you comparing a noun or a verb? Test by seeing if you can insert a verb into your sentence.
All that to get to the comic:
Regular readers of this site might recall that I am a fan of Brooke McEldowney, who writes and draws two erudite comics. The one above is 9 Chickweed Lane, and the other is Pibgorn. I recommend them both.