Raising the Bar
When grammar and jokes meet
This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock,” where we focus on words, a quirk of history or literature, or something just plain fun.
“Were a language ever completely ‘grammatical,’ it would be the perfect engine of conceptual expression. Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent. All grammars leak.” — Edward Sapir, 1921
In my recent conversation with Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English, about the importance of language to leaders, we landed on grammar.
One of the shockers: “grammar,” he said, was “one of [his] least favorite subjects.”
However, he pointed out that he felt compelled to study it and to understand the different parts of speech in order to be more effective as an editor.
And, like him, while you may not be able to name parts of speech or grammar rules, you know them when you see them because are smitten with the written or spoken word.
For this week’s Off the Clock, I thought you might appreciate these references to various elements of writing, through the construct of the old “walked into a bar” style of jokes mixed with wordplay.
If you can make it through these, there’s a book recommendation at the end.
An Oxford comma walks into a bar where it spends the evening watching the television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.
A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
A question mark walks into a bar?
A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”
A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
A synonym strolls into a tavern.
At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
A dyslexic walks into a bra.
A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.
A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.
A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.
Bonus: Recommended Reading
Thirsty yet? Perhaps this book will slake your thirst.
In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. Using examples from literature, history, neighborhood signage, and her own imagination, Truss shows how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and the hilarious consequences of punctuation gone awry.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
So good, and so very bad (the jokes).