Tag Archives: subjects

“It is I,” et cetera.

Can words 69?

by Dirk E. Oldman

Lucky me. I get to fly solo today. No Annie to turn everything back to food. She gets her turn next time.

And today’s subject sounds very promising: the copula. Verbal copulation! That’s what I’ve been talking about from the start. But in this case, “copula” just means directly connecting a quality to a subject, or expressing identity of two things. “This is that.”

The interesting thing is that, when it comes to this kind of copulation, there’s a set of people who prefer a sort of 69 arrangement to the usual pitcher-and-catcher setup that verbs give us.

It’s only a sort of 69. The idea is that a sentence like It’s me should be It is I because the it and the I are one and the same, so both are the subject.

Two subjects! Each pitching and each catching. Or neither catching. So they’re doing each other but neither one is being done. Try that at home.

Actually, what this looks like to me, really, is the object getting a sex change so it can be in a same-sex relationship with the subject. But the difference between that and the It is I construction is that the It is I construction is kinda… you know… unnatural.

Really. You may know that people say it’s supposed to be right, but does it come naturally to you? Would you use it with your friends or pretty much anyone?

Let’s start with the fact that we don’t say It am I. I mean, yes, you can say something like The prince of perverts am I, but that’s obviously an inversion. Verbs are still one-way streets. They can’t get out of the subject-versus-object thing.

Sometimes, it’s true, there is confusion as to who is doing whom. It’s dark, the air is heady… If you have a sentence like Most important are the handcuffs, you don’t have a noun in the subject position, so it’s common to look around and conjugate the verb to the object position. This is like how, if you’re fantasizing that someone’s doing you, you’re still the one doing the doing of being done, even if you’re using a toy (remember: adjectives are sex toys). But you can still say Most important is the handcuffs, because the handcuffs isn’t actually in the subject position. Think of this as using a toy that has batteries in it. (And would you really say Most important am I rather than Most important is me?)

Then there’s What really matters are the handcuffs. Should that be is? The catch here is that what can stand for a singular or a plural. It’s tricky. It’s a pro. So the are is really going with what.

But then you see sentences like The central thing are the handcuffs or The crux of the matter are the handcuffs. This seems to happen because the person writing it has an idea of the central thing or the crux as being like what really matters or most important: a topic-setter but not a noun. Well. Do you like it when someone treats you like a non-person and doesn’t let you do your own doing?

Really, just try that with a person who might speak up about it. The worst thing in the world is nasty ex-wives: a perfectly fine sentence. The worst thing in the world are nasty ex-wives: a little iffy. Two of the three worst things that ever happened to me are Annie’s face: a reasonable sentence. Annie’s face are two of the three worst things that ever happened to me: makes you dizzy.

And there’s another question: to quote a very admirable man, it “depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Not all ises are even the same. It’s not always a two-way street. Try this:

Nasty ex-wives are very bad things.

Very bad things are nasty ex-wives.

Pornographic authors are happy people.

Happy people are pornographic authors.

The first sentence of each pair is no problem, in the same way as Sex is a form of recreation and Broadway is a street in New York are no problem: If you have a whole bunch of things that are B, and A is one of them, you can say A is B without saying All B are A, which is what the second sentences in the pairs could be read as saying. So this is another way the copula is not a 69.

But back to It is I. This is not the same as Pornographic authors are happy people. There is no set of I that it belongs in. For that matter, there is no set of it that I belongs in. This is because there is no it.

Yup. To quote Billy Joel, “It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing. But sometimes a fantasy is all you need.” When we want to express the presence or identity of something without reference to anything else, we just want a verb and the thing, really. Many other languages do that: they use a plain verb without a subject. “Is me.” Or “Am I.” Or (since equivalents of “have” are often used for this) “Has cheeseburger.” But English doesn’t. We need a subject. But a fantasy subject is good enough. So we use expletives.

No, I don’t ████ing mean words like ████ing. Grammatical expletives are just filler: words that have no reference – they’re just used because something has to be in that spot. It‘s me. There‘s a cheeseburger.

We have them because in English, every verb needs to have a subject, even if the subject is just a fantasy. When we say There are weirdos here, we’re not saying Here are weirdos there and we’re not confused by the contradiction between here and there. There are things to read isn’t the same as Things to read are there. And It is I does not mean It am I or I am it.

So, nope, no 69, not here. Sorry, guys. When you open your eyes, you’ll find it’s just a blow-up doll. You’re flying solo.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Subjects and verbs.

Don’t sleep with the wrong person

by Dirk E. Oldman

OK, now, you would think this is straightforward: if you have a subject and a verb, then the subject is doing the verb.

No, no, I don’t mean doing the verb. In that sense, the subject is doing the object, if there’s an object who doesn’t object. But the verb is what the subject is doing.

The problem is that some people seem to have trouble sometimes keeping track of who’s doing the doing.

Now, let me ask you: if you’re at a party with your spouse, and the two of you are seated a couple of seats apart, and between you is some other person, does that mean that you get to sleep with that other person?

The answer, by the way, is no. In case you weren’t sure.

But, now, look at this sentence, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9B7im8aQjo:

Jamie Oliver attempts and fails miserably in trying to convince a group of American kids that consuming processed chicken nuggets are bad.

Let’s skip over the Jamie Oliver part. He may be the naked chef, but he’s not my type. It’s that subordinate clause, starting with the that. (What’s a subordinate clause? It’s like the fantasy you’re having while doing the real act of the main sentence. But I’ll get to that another time. Actually, in this case, you’re several layers in from the main verb – it’s like Inception, but in this case the result is a misconception.) OK, here:

consuming processed chicken nuggets are bad

Remember: the subject is one thing. Which one thing is it? Is it nuggets? If it is, that means that consuming modifies nuggets, which means that the subject is nuggets that are consuming. Ah, no. I’ve had my nuggets eaten but I’ve never been eaten by nuggets. The thing here is actually an act itself: consuming. The nuggets are what’s being consumed, but consuming is a noun formed from a verb.

Let me show you the difference:

Wanking monkeys are normal. This means that monkeys that wank are normal. This is true. The little wankers are at it all the time.

Wanking monkeys is not normal. This means that the act of wanking monkeys – you know, you or someone else who is not the monkeys are or is doing the wanking – is not normal. This is also true. I wouldn’t do it. Would you? Maybe I shouldn’t ask. My ex-wife would. But she’s not normal.

So. The original should be consuming … is bad.

Otherwise it’s like sleeping with just whoever’s next to you.


No peppermint steak, please

by Annie Wei-Yu Kan

Disgusting. Maybe if my ex-husband had been a little less eager to sleep with whoever was next to him, he wouldn’t be my ex-husband. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t be whoever Dirk E. Oldman is: not a monkey but a baboon.

Never mind. It is quite possible to look at a sentence like the one he’s talking about without thinking of disgusting things. I mean disgusting things other than that sentence, which is itself a disgusting thing.

Actually, no, even when you’re talking about food, the analogy to the sentence is disgusting. Think steak with peppermint sauce. You see, when you’re matching subject and predicate, you’re matching the key ingredients of your recipe. And while there are subtle issues of judgement, such as not having one part of a sentence in one tone and another part in another tone (like having my nice, clean writing juxtaposed with Dirk’s stream of filth), you certainly must get the basic matching right. You just don’t serve steak with peppermint sauce. It’s terrible, and very hard to clean the pan after. And you don’t serve onion cutlets with grated lamb and chopped cheese.

It’s easy enough to notice this in the kitchen, but clearly many people are very easily confused. It makes me so tired and impatient. Imagine standing in the kitchen grating lamb chops, bone and all, your fingers tired, your knuckles bloody, your grater ruined. All because you couldn’t manage to look again and see that you’re grating the wrong thing. So how is it that anyone could not stop and look and see what their main ingredients in their sentence are and what the garnishes are?

I see I’m going to have to remind everyone of how it works again. Simple subject and predicate:

The cats want their food.

Add some garnish:

The cats in the kitchen want their food.

Notice how we don’t say

The cats in the kitchen wants its food.

Anyone who is so easily distracted by the nearest thing can hardly be entrusted with something important, like children or a job.

Is the sentence more complex? So what? Do you mean to tell me that in a recipe with 20 ingredients you can’t tell what the main ingredient is? If you make pollo mole poblano, it’s chicken in a sauce with at least 20 ingredients, and it takes forever to make. Forever. But in all that forever, do you forget that you’re making a chicken dish?

The cats, which are eating in the kitchen over in Dirk’s house because he always leaves his dishes around in a mess and would sooner have cats come and lick them off than clean it up himself because he is a dirty pig, want their food.

I guess some people get confused by a gerund. Well, I’m telling you now: Don’t get confused by a gerund!

What do you mean you don’t know what a gerund is? It’s a noun made from a verb. Like kicking in the kicking of his ass. Or even just kicking his ass as a subject:

Kicking his ass just makes him eager for more.

Would you say

Kicking their asses just make them eager for more?

Of course not. The basic structure is

Kicking makes them eager.

The rest is garnishes.

You see how simple it is? If you can’t figure it out with one set of ingredients, try a different set in the same structure and see if you get it. You won’t even need to descend into filth to do it. Other than the filth of a poorly written sentence, that is. But you’ll learn. I have faith in you. Just don’t let me down.


Tagged , , , ,