It’s the last week of school, and I’ve got English on the brain. English is awesome. English is dumb. I love it. I hate it. I love language and want to spend the rest of my life finding new ways to tell exciting and interesting stories. I hate language and grr blargle argle sknash.
If you’re going to be a writer, you have to love the language at least a little bit. I love it a lot. I love its twists and turns, I love its nooks and crannies, I love its incongruities, I love its flat contradictions. More than that, I love to play with it.
I think authors have to practice their wordplay at every opportunity they can get, like the guys with the things doing the things to other things. Ahem. My brain’s a little fried and my wordplay is not in top form right now. But that won’t stop me from writing about it.
Is it any great coincidence that wordplay and foreplay are the same except for two letters??? Yes, it’s a coincidence. It means nothing. Things don’t always have to mean things. NO, YOU IDIOT, THINGS ALWAYS MEAN THINGS. A good wordplay tantalizes the reader, it lets him know that the author has a playful side, a side that he doesn’t necessarily show off to everybody but once you get him between the sheets the aphorisms and witticisms begin to fly, and who doesn’t want a piece of that?
Let me try again.
Wordplay is like swordplay. You have to practice to keep your edges sharp. It’s also a sort of dance, a deadly one where a misstep could cost you your life, figuratively speaking. A properly aimed rhetorical thrust can skewer the heart of the reader, shake him to the very bitty bottom of his thickly-soled soul.
Okay, enough nonsense. Here are some of my favorite oddities of the English language at the moment. I’m giving them a title because I’m not aware of any title for them, but spoiler alert, research isn’t a thing I really “do” here at Pavorisms. And by “do” I mean I don’t. Do it. Research.
Repeticons! These are those phrases that you read and do a double take, because the author has surely made a typo and written the same word twice in a row when he didn’t mean to. Except with a repeticon, he totally did mean to. These little doodads are things you can slip into your prose for the express purpose of tripping your reader up, so that they come to you and say something like, “I think you only meant to write that word once,” and then you slap them with a sock full of marbles and say “NOPE, I repeticon’d you on purpose, Snitch.” See, people love to correct one another, and with this little device, you lure out their hidden, slimy, smiley Grammar Nazi and then step on his stupid face.
Here it is in action.
This one is probably the most common repeticon you’ll hear in spoken word, and it’s nearly always used wrongly. The speaker (and radio talk show hosts are particularly egregious offenders here) will say something like, “The problem is, is that…” and off he goes. The problem is, is that… no, sorry. The problem IS that what they’re doing is leaving off the relative pronoun what, which makes “the problem is” dependent, turning the whole shmear into a noun clause which allows it to be followed by a verb, which “is” is. Ha! Did that 7th grade grammar lesson hurt? That’s okay, it hurt me too. Anyway, “What the problem is is an overabundance of linking verbs” is a correct usage of “is is”, but “the problem is is that you use the word ‘is’ too much” is not.
Pretty sure the late great Cab Calloway had a song called “Is you is, or is you ain’t” which would be appropriate here, but the fundamental problem with this “is is” thing is that “is” is a linking verb, which nobody understands. Does your head hurt? My head hurts.
I can’t give a particularly good reason for this, but this little repeticon, for me, has a delightfully British feel, if only because in my mind, Brits take a lot more care with the language than we ‘Muricans do here stateside. I’m sure that’s nonsense, but I’m sticking with it because it’s fun. For this one we’re venturing into the wondrous realm of the past perfect verb tense, a place where actions are completed before other actions begin. Sounds overcomplicated, but it’s very simple: “I had finished my broccoli, but mother still didn’t allow me a piece of cake.” Okay? Then you simply use the verb “had.” “I had had five beers before Danny came over with the ‘ludes.” Except it’s less Wolf of Wall Street and more British, so more like: “I had had a spot of tea before Nigel popped in with the crumpets.”
To be fair, it’s not particularly practical because there are usually simpler ways of saying what you want to say than by using the past perfect. Sometimes, however, like throwing the letter ‘Q’ into a privet bush, there are times when it is unavoidable. I only wish I had had somebody to explain “had had” to me before I had to eat all that haddock. I APOLOGIZE.
Last one, another one highly specific, you get this one by adding “saw that” or “knew that” or “realized that”, etc., to demonstrative pronoun “that”, to get “I knew that that was the last time I would ever eat anything from THAT deli.” Not as much fun to use as the others because it feels a little cumbersome, and demonstrative pronouns in writing tend to be a no-no, because it’s easy for the antecedent to get lost. The antecedent of course being the “that” that you’re referring to. Okay, I’m seriously not doing it on purpose anymore.
Want bonus points? Slam them all together like when you used to make a Suicide with every flavor the drink machine at the convenience store had to offer. For example: “The problem with is is that you’re using it wrong. If you had had a proper English teacher, he would have told you that that is not the right way to use ‘is’.”
I try to teach my students about quirks of language like this but they never seem to get it.
Anyway, if you want to start some linguistic shenanigans, toss some of these tidbits into your prose, invite some criticism, and watch as your happy little breeze-shooting party descends into fisticuffs.
On the other hand, it’s probably a good idea to avoid them in your real writing because they might make you sound like a pretentious douche. Unless of course that’s your goal. In which case, go douche.