Slogging through the whelming flood of teaching and correcting student essays, I have come to two realizations. First, instructing others is not the road to riches. Second, and more importantly, daily reading the writing of people who overuse gerunds affects you.
If you read this blog, and if you do I both thank you and feel your pain, you know that in spite of having failed to get rich by my never-popular Dog and a Half word kit, I am still searching for the road that leads to riches. In my quest I have wandered down the wrong road more than once. Years ago, I rashly took the road to itches; another time, I crashed through the gate closing the road to stitches. After that I stumbled down an incline onto the road to ditches, which led me through a spooky forest marked “The Road to Witches.” At least that’s what I thought the sign said. Someone had scratched out the “w” and tried to write another letter.
So the other day when I read that William Faulkner, moldering in his grave these past 50 years, has directed his heirs to go after Woody Allen for putting Faulkner’s words in the actor’s mouth, my gast was flabbered, that is to say, I was flabbergasted. This pay-to-say lawsuit is over a nine-word quote. Two short sentences for a total of nine words. If that isn’t flabbergastery, I don’t know what is. Really, you expect me to believe that Faulkner could write sentences that short? If I were the dead Hemingway, I would be directing my heirs to see if I actually wrote those sentences. Faulkner, who wrote a 1,288 word sentence in one of his books (rhymes with Abs and Arms, Abs and Arms) was not exactly known for his brevity. If you have read any of his other works, such as Alight in a Gust, As I Die Lying, Arose for Emily, or The Sound in the Flurry, you know what I mean.
And what are these nine words that you must pay to say? To avoid lawsuits, I’ll give you a couple of hints.
- The paste is never dried. It’s not even paste. (Remove one “e” from each sentence. Take out the “ri” and push an “a” between the “e” and “d.”)
- The p*st is never dead. It’s not even p*st. (Buy a vowel. I suggest “a.”)
Do you see where this is going? If your words are copyrighted, or even copywronged, you can sue people and get money. If you write a blog, a book, a letter, a to-do list, an electric bill (think the date and your name!), and then put that little copyright mark on it, you can become rich! You may be able to sue for even fewer than nine words. Eight words, seven words, six words, whee! This may be the last semester I teach.
Mark my words, folks, (but only if you find any errors, and please use green ink because that’s what we use at school to soothe the students who have been traumatized by years of red ink splattered across their papers, making every assignment they’ve ever written look like one more bloody battlefield in their war against the English language, a language they mangle, wrangle, and tangle on their tongues every day, slicing and dicing with their verbal swords, threatening to murder their own mother tongue — she who gave them voice, nurtured, cooed and wooed them! — until they give form to those words, incarnate them into curves and lines, lettering them onto paper, where they lie in rows like soldiers in trenches, fighting a losing battle against the teacher, who enters the fray, scarred but not deterred, weary but not defeated, ready to fight through the long, lonely hours of the night, unflinching in the face of that barrage of words that scatters meaning helter-skelter, but does not, yea, cannot conquer the ink-marked soldier, armed with just a pen, marching forth, gathering the wounded words, mending them if possible, but if not, circling them in a green shroud to be carried away), if other dead people follow this trend, we will all have to start paying when we quote them.
You can quote me on that. In fact, I hope you do.
(Note to Faulkner’s estate: In no way, shape, or form am I trying to disgorge your profits to engorge my own. All quotes and book titles appearing in this post are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, moldering or fully moldered in his or her grave in Oxford, Mississippi, having litigious heirs or not, is purely coincidental.)