Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Living here in this chilly and dark Swedish-speaking paradise, I sometimes miss the latest cultural hoo-ha in America. For instance, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I got an e-mail from my favorite Finn that casually dropped the phrase "eats, shoots & leaves," which briefly flummoxed me. But I was promptly distracted by something inconsequential and forgot about it.

Until yesterday, when I came across the phrase again. This time I found out that it was a book of rants by some grammar fascist and it came out a year ago at least. Far more interesting, I ended up reading a review of the book by Louis Menand from the New Yorker, in which he points out many errors made by the grammar fascist, and notes that Americans are more rigid about punctuation than the British. Which isn't surprising: I suspect that the colonized (hard to think of the U.S. as the colonized), in an attempt to counteract their sense of inferiority to the mother country (this would be England, which America still feels inferior to when it comes to anything cultural), tend to point to rules with nasty wagging fingers, and do their best to codify, mummify and worship the language (or other cultural elements, artefacts, what have you), sometimes stupidly, sometimes not so stupidly.

But what I liked best about the review was that it careened all over the place, and ended up talking about the importance of the voice in writing, the difficulty of describing what voice is, and the fear that writers have of losing it. He also mentioned the disappointment of readers meeting a favorite writer, whose actual voice just can't live up to the writing.

All of which made me wonder about this day and age where people like you and I have our own written voices with our own tiny audiences, some of whom inevitably we end up meeting.

Exactly how disappointed must people be when they meet me in the flesh?

The Swedish phrase for the day is hemskt besviken. It means horribly disappointed.

- by Francis S.

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