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O for a Muse of Syntax - Brendan Hughes
Here’s a grammatically correct sentence: James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher. Well, almost correct. You just need to sprinkle some curvy marks… James, while John had had “had had,” had had “had;” “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher. Without the commas and quotes and semicolons, it’s just a skipping needle. A blip in the matrix. Had had had had had nauseam. But throw in those little musical notations and suddenly I’m talking asides, I’m talking conflict, I’m talking the past pluperfect tense! That is, something that was in the past in the past. Suddenly a scene unfolds: James and John in some previous moment, endless rivals for the love of their creative writing professor—which, if they were anywhere in greater Syracuse when this went down, might have been, with any luck, George Saunders—going toe to toe on the pluperfect versus the past pluperfect. And the very sentence, the very sentence purporting to depict their syntactical melee, taking sides… siding with the winner, John. John’s not comfortable merely referring to the past, no. John must turducken a past within a past. Releasing so much meta-lightning that any sentence attempting to describe it will have its spirit summarily broken and be forced to do the same. But not with words, my friends. With sprinkles. It’s so dastardly. You’ve won the battle John, but by God you will not have had won the war. Damn …