Saturday, April 27, 2019


By Gary Gilson

Language delights me.

I’m not certain how that came about, but it may trace back to when I was four and my mother used phonics to teach me to read. She had me sound out the letters on the label of a ketchup bottle.

Toward the end of this entry I’ll reproduce my all-time favorite line in the English language. I love it so much that it will appear in boldface italic type.

It’s not the opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 — even though that’s a great line, to wit:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 
Admit impediments.

That’s a strong line because it ends with impact; it doesn’t say, “Let me not admit impediments to the marriage of true minds.” Read those two versions aloud and feel the difference.

I learned that lesson from reading that the great crime writer Raymond Chandler denounced an editor who changed a sentence’s strong ending to a weak one, in the same way I’ve just changed Shakespeare’s.

Other invaluable lessons came from my sixth-grade English teacher, Miss Moore (she of the blue hair).

Miss Moore enunciated rules: 1) never end a sentence with a preposition; 2) never start a sentence with the word “and” or the word “but”; 3) never use a double negative.


I coach writers to learn all such rules, but never to be bound by them. In other words, break any or all the rules, as long as what you write works. 

Which brings me to my favorite line, the one that ends the lyric in this song, sung by the great trombonist Jack Teagarden:

“Say it simple, so I can understand. 
Use all the easy words at your command.
Don’t tell lies, I never cared for fiction; talk real clear,
Don’t want no friction with your diction.”

How’s that for a double negative?

And it’s even better when you know a rule and deliberately break it for effect. It’s a kind of inside joke.

No apologies to Miss Moore for my having started that sentence with the word “And” — I did it for emphasis. 

So . . . when you are writing, throw out the rule book, as long as you are communicating — making what you write say what you mean.

Can anyone doubt the meaning — or the bite — of “Don’t want no friction with your diction”? 

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