Follow by Email

Friday, December 11, 2015

I BARK, BESEECH and IMPLORE you to read this post. And then, the book Ella Minnow Pea.

Barking, imploring, beseeching dog,

Some English teach- ers want to ban written use of the words GOOD, BAD, FUN, SAID and others. "We call them 'dead words' barked (implored? beseeched?) a middle school teacher in California.

A British Columbia Board of Education has a 397 word list of alternatives to the word SAID. Really. Why you could use sniveled, or emitted, or spewed or continued, the list notated, itemized, exampled, pondered, displayed. (See, two can play that game.) 

"I love you," John sniveled.

"Ditto!" Henrietta, all dewy-eyed, spewed.

You know, we're not talking romance language here.

I appreciate that educators are trying to instill imagination and color in the writing of their students, but that's not the focus. No one talks like that... or perhaps I should say, no one emotes like that. Creating good writing habits is not choice of words but how even the simplest of words can be magically used to paint a picture in every reader's mind. Using sniveled or barked is one way to get people to see you as some kind of a freak... and quietly back away. If it doesn't sound like it could come out of your mouth, then don't say, exposit, reveal, confess it that way.

Good writing doesn't even have to use all the letters. I loved Ella Minnow Pea, (L, M, N, O, P... get it?), a very different short book by Mark Dunn. This is how it is described by Wikipedia and me:

The novel is set on the fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina, which is home to Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog," which uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. Nollop's famous sentence is preserved on a memorial statue to him on the island and is taken very seriously by the government of the island. Throughout the book, tiles containing the letters fall from the inscription beneath the statue, and as each one does, the island's government bans that letter's use from written or spoken communication. A penalty system is enforced for using the forbidden characters, with public censure for a first offense, lashing or stocks (violator's choice) upon a second offense and banishment from the island nation upon the third. By the end of the novel, most of the island's inhabitants have either been banished or have left of their own accord.

The fun is that the book is cleverly written in the same fashion, with the banned letters not used in succeeding chapters. The last chapter is written rather cryptically with barely enough letters to form a sentence, let alone bring the book to its conclusion.

The island's high council becomes more and more nonsensical as time progresses and the alphabet diminishes, promoting Nollop to divine status. Uncompromising in their enforcement of Nollop's "divine will", they offer only one hope to the frustrated islanders: to find a replacement of Nollop's pangram. With this goal in mind, many of the novel's main characters take on the task with urgency because only five characters are left (L, M, N, O, and P). The elusive replacement phrase is eventually discovered by Ella in one of her father's earlier letters: "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs," which also includes every letter in the alphabet. The council accepts this and restores the right of the islanders to use the alphabet in it's entirety.

A good writer can write about anything using words of all kinds and make you want to keep reading.

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac

No comments:

Post a Comment