Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Length does matter

    My sentences can be very long.
    Well, not that one. Or the one after. Or ... oh hell, sometimes I can be cruising along, whipping in clauses and asides like a soda jerk piling hillocks of whipped cream and sprays of chopped nuts on a hot fudge sundae, and before I know it the short, simple sentence I wanted to craft—indeed, tried to craft, and would have crafted, had I been thinking—is lost and I'm snaking my way through some serpentine thought where even I've lost track of what it is I'm saying, or at least trying to say, and I wrote the damn thing, or, worse, am in the process of writing it and somehow can't stop because I'm afraid of placing that period and having to go back and see what I've done and make sense out of it.
     Must be from reading all that Proust as a young man, and Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace. Proust has a 900 word sentence in "Remembrance of Things Past." I'd repeat it here, but you'd never read it—I sure couldn't—so what would be the point? Which is the problem with long sentences. The mind drifts. The meaning is lost. Better. To. Break. Them. Up.

     Here's where a guy needs editor. When my fine editor at the paper, Bill, makes the weary walk to my office, half the time it's to suggest breaking up lengthy sentences into smaller, more digestible parts, and I invariably do. Here on the blog I'm on my own, except of course for readers who gamely point out errors, or what they think are errors, or at least raise the idea of errors without actually saying what they mean, which is maddening. But I try to notice when I'm period deficient, and keep it snappy.
     Even though I am guilty of the practice, frequently, I can still whistle through my teeth in derision seeing someone else do it. No flaws irk as much as flaws you yourself possess. I was reading about an upcoming trade show in Tokyo—don't ask why, I might have to go—and came across this description:

81st Tokyo International Gift Show ThemeTheme: Success Through Globalisation-model Manufacturing
Seriously considering, for the sake of the livelihoods and happiness of the people of our country and friendly overseas nations and territories beyond our borders, what kind of goods and amenities, after all, would be useful to them, and how those goods and amenities can be made desirable, devising in a space of free creative study solutions to problems, rather than being carried away by the quality optimization and safety of cutting-edge new technology.
      Wow, right? You would think any business entity producing some kind of international show and purporting to offer some thought in English would track down a native English speaker to render that into the vernacular. Tokyo must have its share.
     Then again, considering how many native English speakers are guilty of the same thing, I don't suppose we can fault the Japanese too much.
     In closing, knowing a challenge when I see one, I thought I should translate the 81st Tokyo International Gift Show's endless and almost incomprehensible blurb into graspable terms. What they're saying is: We're offering a space where people from Japan and abroad can come together and learn how to better sell stuff.
     I think that about covers it.


  1. Sort of like when The Player had characters discuss tracking shots during a long tracking shot. As a sometime writer given to mile long sentences, and a lover of Proust and Joyce, I loved this one -despite the typos.

  2. hidden in the recesses of my brain was a 'remembrance' of a university professor telling us that James Joyce may have had the longest sentence, so i looked it up ~ "Among the longest sentences written is Molly Bloom's soliloquy in the James Joyce novel Ulysses, which contains a sentence of 4,391 words." i remember it goes on for page after page. i wonder what the Grammar Nazis would make of it?

  3. Hidden in that blurb is an interesting idea and not surprisingly, the writer didn't want to say it too clearly. The pitch is to learn how to make stuff people want to buy, like China does so successfully, with less focus on Japanese ideals such as quality and safety.

  4. Hope you don't have to make such a long flight to travel there.

  5. Márquez's "Autumn of the Patriarch" has some whopper sentences as well. The style makes an otherwise compelling story difficult to read.

  6. Hi Neil. I actually enjoy the occasional error in the blog. It makes me feel better to see that even the pros sometimes commit them.

  7. You're suggesting the Tokyo trade show flaks should KonMari their text? When I was an English major, I wrote long convoluted sentences of stacked dependent & independent clauses. When I studied law, writing of Justice Brandeis changed my writing to short declarative sentences. Variety works for variety of purposes.

  8. I've been away and am only now catching up with past EGGD's, so no one is likely to be reading this. But what the Hell!.

    "When I was an English major." What regiment?

    As I recall, James Thurber wrote a little pastiche on Henry James titled "The Beast in the Dingle." With all the Master's longeurs.

    "Brevity is," of course, "the soul of wit."

    Tom Evans

    1. Almost no one. Happy Thanksgiving, Tom. Thanks for reading, and for all your trenchant comments.


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