For you writers or wannabe writers out there, I encourage you to check out the Sphere College Creative Writing Contest.
The deadline is January 10 and it sounds like it will be a lot of fun!
Featured in the video is Dr. Richard Liston, a friend and cohort from my days at Data General. Richard has a great sense of humor himself, and I trust his judgment. If he says this is a worthwhile contest to consider, then it’s a worthwhile contest.
Get your entries submitted soon!
MC: Good evening, folks, and welcome to the annual rendition — what is quickly becoming the Wizard of Oz in the literary grammar world (well, okay, if not the Wizard of Oz, maybe this is the annual equivalent of Gus’s Hot Dogs’ Groundhog Day Celebration) — of the Art of the Christmas Letter, or to put it more succinctly, Can You Top My List of Ailments? We have with us that icon of grammatical icons, Aunt Ruth. Twinkling in the dark skies above, Aunt Ruth is even more sparkling tonight than those heavenly stars. We welcome you, Aunt Ruth.
AR: Thanks, MC. You’re dangling your participles again. How embarrassing this is.
MC: (suddenly mortified) I’m … what?
AR: I am not twinkling in the dark skies above. The stars are twinkling.
MC: Ah, I see the confusion. Would it have been better if I had mentioned something about chihuahuas?
AR: No, please. The chihuahua thing is getting old. Now, your gaffe is common in Christmas letters. Dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, and the like are becoming all too commonplace.
MC: Why do you suppose that is?
AR: Well, it may have something to do with people getting out of practice writing. I mean, really, how many letters — physical, stamped, pieces of correspondence that arrive in a mailbox or through your door slot to a real live mailing address — do you receive any more, other than bills and advertisements?
AR: Exactly. Now, it is not my intent to discourage Christmas letter writers from penning notes to family and friends. The world needs more of this sort of thing. The last thing I want is for someone to text me, “HAVE A GR8 XMAS.” There are a couple things you need to keep in mind, though, when writing those letters.
MC: And they are …
AR: I’m glad you asked. First, watch those misplaced modifiers. Here are examples of things to avoid.
Covered with red, blue, and silver ornaments, and adorned in hundreds of lights blinking in rhythm to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Oscar set up the Christmas tree last weekend.
Plumper than last year, Edna promises this year’s Christmas goose will be something to behold.
Coming out shortly after our baby was born, Ronald exclaimed, “It’s the placenta!”
With a little better resolution and less blurriness than last year, Michael is fired up about this year’s edition of Madden football.
Deluging the kids and pelting them with frozen stuff, Harris watched from the window as the kids braved the season’s first ice storm.
Barking all night long, James is hoping that the dogs will learn to quiet down over time.
Sagging from age and significant excess weight, Aunt Ruth was concerned about all the snow on her porch roof.
Make sure that the thing you are describing matches the description. I am not sagging from age and significant excess weight … well maybe I am, but I’m not concerned about it. My porch roof is sagging from age and significant excess weight.
MC: Okay, point well taken. What’s the other thing?
AR: Avoid getting too graphic. It’s one thing to say in a Christmas letter, “We had a baby,” and it’s something else to describe the placenta in great detail.
MC: Do people actually do that?
AR: They do. Please, unless you have a child named Placenta, spare us the details.
MC: I think we should close on that note.
AR: Are you really going to publish this? It’s a bit weak, don’t you think?
MC: Agreed, but I am anyway. Okay, stay tuned until next week, folks, when we air the annual edition of My Bowl Game Is Bigger than Your Bowl Game.
MC: “Good evening folks, it’s time once again for that delectable morsel of entertainment, the sauerkraut on your Reuben sandwich, What’s Your Metaphor? On tonight’s show we have as our special guest the one and only Aunt Ruth, the leg of lamb herself, the creme’ de la creme, the marshmallow in your steeping cup of hot chocolate that is a divine nectar to your throat on a howling winter’s eve in which snow fell with the fury of a squadron of 1975 Dodge Darts flying across the country in a remake of Friends of Eddie Coyle. Aunt Ruth, how are you on this rhino of an evening?”
AR: “I’m fine, MC, just fine. Other than your bizarrely excessive use of metaphors, how are you?”
MC: “I’m as good as a Boy Scout holding a royal flush.”
AR: “That’s a simile because you used as. Remember, using like, as, or than will, more often than not, result in a simile.”
MC: “Oh, uh, right. Can you remind our stellar audience how this could be made into a general metaphor?”
AR: “If you had said, ‘I’m a Boy Scout holding a royal flush,’ then that would have been a good old fashioned metaphor. Remember, though, that a simile is indeed a metaphor.”
MC: “Right. Aren’t all metaphors similes, or something like that?”
AR: “No, not quite. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.”
MC: “All … wait, how am I going to remember that?”
AR: “Think about tubas and brass instruments.”
AR: “Tubas … now, are all brass instruments tubas?”
MC: “Certainly not. Some brass instruments are euphoniums; some brass instruments are trumpets; some brass instruments are trombones; some brass instruments are french horns; some brass instruments are …”
AR: “That’s quite enough. You are a walking dictionary of brass instruments, apparently. Now, are all tubas brass instruments, for purposes of this discussion?”
MC: “Well, yes.”
AR: “So there you have it.”
MC: “There I have what?”
AR: “There you have the answer. Just like all tubas are brass instruments, but not all brass instruments are tubas, it’s also the case that all similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.”
MC: “I see, I think.”
AR: “Think of it this way. Tubas are similes.
MC: “Tubas are similes. Got it.”
AR: “And the brass instruments are metaphors.”
MC: “Brass instruments are metaphors. Got it.”
AR: “So, by saying, ‘Tubas are similes,’ you are using tubas as a metaphor for similes.”
MC: “So a tuba is a metaphor for a simile?”
AR: “That’s not all. Remember the thing about chihuahuas and dogs?”
MC: “Where all chihuahuas are dogs but not all dogs are chihuahuas?”
AR: “Right. What does that tell you?”
MC: “If I said, ‘A tuba is a chihuahua of dogs,’ then I could say that a tuba is a metaphor for a chihuahua?”
AR: “Bingo. Now, what do you think about that?”
MC: “Well, technically it makes sense, but it’s not intuitive to me.”
AR: “Why not?”
MC: “Tubas are big and heavy and have a deep sound. Chihuahuas are small and light and bark like a canary with a sore throat.”
AR: “So in other words, folks, not all metaphors are effective. The metaphor should make sense; it should create an image for the reader or listener that emphasizes certain attributes, an image that gives the reader or listener a nice visualization.”
MC: “For example, if you want to emphasize that the man ate a huge amount of ice cream, could you say something like, ‘The waiter brought the man an olympic sized swimming pool full of ice cream, and before you could say, “She sells seashells by the seashore,” he had eaten all of it in its glorious entirety.’ How’s that?”
AR: “Well, the seashell thing is a bit much, but I guess it gets the point across.”
MC: “Thank you for your time, Aunt Ruth. Remember, folks, make your metaphors meaningful. Tuba players, drop the chihuahuas. Until next week, this is your show’s emcee, MC, a billion points of light coming at you.”
AR: “Oh, never mind …”