Two jaded English Professors were discussing matters of syntax over a pint in the bar of a quaint Oxford inn called the Dog & Duck. They deplored the sloppy standards of grammar now obtaining among entrants to their colleges and harked back to the time when scientific parsing and correct spelling were an integral part of the syllabus.
While proper use of the subjunctive was admitted to be an arcane mystery, the smooth conjugation of verbs and the distinction between adjectival and adverbial clauses were deemed non-negotiable. They were prime pillars of the English presence on the planet, and the dangling phrase, with the speaker severed from all responsibility for his actions, heralded anarchy. Language was the cornerstone of civilisation. The learned colleagues had conducted their lives upon that premise.
"What gets my goat," said Professor Quill, placing his glass concentrically upon the coaster, "is this vogue for starting sentences in the middle. It's become an epidemic!"
"You mean the use of 'and' and 'but'?" mused Professor Nibb. "Expected to do the office of butler ushering in the guests for dinner?"
"Exactly! 'And' cannot stand sentinel, neither in affairs of prose nor dialogue. 'And' is a conjunction and so is 'but' and 'yet' and 'for' and 'so' and..."
"But you just started two sentences with 'and'. What's worse, you used five more. That's what they do in kindergarten."
"And didn't you start yours with 'but'?"
"There you go again! You can't help yourself. You've transgressed your own rules, but you're making perfect sense."
"Well, that is some consolation at least!" expostulated Quill, his cheeks as red as those on a Toby jug.
"I'm all for fine grammar," said Nibb, "but it must assist fluent communication." He glanced through the window where puffs of cloud were sailing across a Delft-blue sky and thought of dinner plates, his nostrils filling with the aroma of honey-glazed ham. He had changed into a blazer before leaving his rooms and remembered his wallet was still in the corduroy jacket he'd worn for lectures. He had no money but loose coins in his trouser pocket and fell to thinking he would have to conjure a sandwich from the contents of his refrigerator.
Presently, he was struck by an idea. "I'd lay a wager," he said to his disgruntled companion, "that you will use five 'ands' in succession in one coherent sentence in the next half-hour."
"That's absurd, Nibb. You know it is," said Quill, contemplating his drained glass. "Let's have another. And it's your shout, this time!"
"Very well. But the one who's wrong pays for dinner! What do you say?"
"Done!" said Quill. "You will."
"Come with me, dear boy," said Nibb. "I want to show you something I noticed on the way in."
Quill was a little intrigued by now and eager for his free meal, so he followed Nibb through the low door of the inn and out into the yard where a ladder was propped against the rough stone wall. Looking up, he observed a painter still at work on the name sign fixed to the side of the building. The fellow was so absorbed, he scarcely noticed them.
"A grand job he's making," said Nibb, "but it's hard to see straight when the light is fading and your subject's right under your nose. A pity about the lettering."
"What do you mean? Nothing wrong with his spelling."
"He's jumbled it all together. One long word. Don't you see? Looks like something out of Charles Kingsley, or Lewis Carroll."
"So he has," said Quill, stepping backwards, his eyes widening. "There's no space between Dog and and and and and Duck!"
© Copyright Rosy Cole 2009, 2011 and 2015