Most days I hope you listen closely, think critically, and ponder deeply what is said here in Laidlaw Hall. Today, though, is not one of those days, for reasons that will become soon become obvious.
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy observes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It would be an overstatement to say that my family is unhappy, but we do have a problem. I struggle to admit this publicly in front 700 students, but in the Age of Oprah and in the spirit of self-disclosure, I am compelled to admit that we have a problem with … pronouns. That’s right pronouns. Specifically pronoun usage, and of course, the occasional lack of an antecedent, a shortcoming that can sometimes last much longer than 4 hours.
Let me give you an example of the nightmare my life has become as a result of this affliction. Last week some family members were watching a movie, and during a scene featuring 3 actors, one of my progeny actually asked, “Hey, was he in ‘Ben-Hur’?”
I bit my tongue. I ground my teeth. I began to weep quietly, as I looked around for fear that Dr. Churchward or Mr. MacDonald might have overheard us.
“’He’? There are 3 actors on the screen. Who, pray tell, is the ‘he’ to whom you are referring?”
This plague has become so problematic, that I have declared Grant House a “pronoun free zone” and am in the process of creating a 12-step program, tentatively called “Antecedents Anonymous,” a self-help group for people whose lives have become unmanageable because of this perplexing linguistic proclivity.
I know I may be over-reacting just a tad. Part of this can be explained by acknowledging that I was once a very poor high school English teacher, an English teacher who was particularly inept when it came to teaching the finer points of grammar. But that shortcoming only spurred my interest in the subject, and I eventually developed a fascination for parts of speech, a love for parts of a sentence.
This particular passion first revealed itself when we got our dog, a chocolate lab. My kids wanted to name him “Snowy” (too much “Tin Tin”) or “Fenway” (too much baseball), while I strongly recommended we name him after any one of – or perhaps even a number of — my favorite subordinate conjunctions.
I wanted to do this for one simple reason. What do dogs do? Dogs run away. And who would chase that runaway dog? Why, I would chase that runaway dog, (While my sons were busy trying to figure out if “he” was in “Ben-Hur,” of course!) And what would make that dog chasing worthwhile? I had visions of myself skipping through the mean streets of Forest Hill screaming at the top of my lungs, “Even though!” “Nevertheless!” “Inasmuch as!” What could be more fun that going up to a complete stranger and asking, “Have you seen ‘Because’? or “Any sign of ‘In so far as’?”