mr. language person

(With apologies to Dave Barry.)

I'm sick, so I have no idea if I will post this, or if there will be more of "The Family Murder Case," or both, or who knows. But, lying feverishly in my bed for the last few days, surviving mostly on tea, I've had a few thoughts.


I'm obviously a bit of a fanatic about some aspects of grammar and punctuation, but other areas I'm not strong in. One is parts of speech. This may go back to diagramming sentences in high school, which I (and pretty much everybody else) thought was a big waste of time. I wonder if current education theory would say that we were missing out on something really vital, or is diagramming sentences actually a silly idea?


Nouns, I understand what they are. Verbs, they're pretty easy. And adjectives, too. But then you get into the complicated ones, like past particles and marsupial phrases, and those have always baffled me. But the one which baffled me the most was gerunds.

I always thought the gerund was something like the infield fly rule. You could understand it as it was being explained, but after a few minutes, the information would drift away. But a week ago (admittedly before the fever started), I looked it up in The Chicago Manual of Style, and I got it. And I still remember it. A verb used as a noun.

Walking is the best exercise.

Walking is clearly a verb (anything that describes moving yourself around is a verb), but here it's being used as a noun. So, it's a gerund.

As McCarthy says in The Time of Your Life: "It's so simple, it's amazing!"

Now I guess I'll have to learn about the propositions and the injunctions and so on.

I already know what a conjunction is. That's pinkeye.

Oh, and, if further proof was needed that The Time of Your Life has altered my brain, I just figured out why the bum in "The Church Murder Case" was named Toledo. It's because so many of the stories Kit Carson tells in the play are about Toledo ("Did you ever try to herd cattle on a bicycle?").

Oh, and, emboldened by my mastery of the gerund, I decided to investigate another question. The next mystery story will be called "The Golden Mystery" (I explained before why it wasn't "The Golden Murder Case," but I'm sick so that means I don't have to find where I said it and put in a link). Now, obviously, if the events of the mystery were suffused with a golden light, "golden" would be an adjective. But "Golden" is actually a name, so it's more like The Greene Murder Case (which is an actual Philo Vance, not one of mine). So, is that not an adjective?

Well, I looked that up, and it is a "proper adjective" (which of course makes me think that the other adjectives must be improper in some way, or maybe that just comes from watching Gosford Park). So, that's settled, too.

interesting development

According to Time Magazine (or possibly it was Newsweek – who remembers?), more books were self-published last year than were published by conventional publishers. This is the first year of which that has been true. Ever.


So, let me put in a plug for my book, A Sane Woman. Available from or directly from

It's good. You'll like it. Good characters, interesting plot, snappy dialogue, a good ending. And it has a really nice cover. Order some for your friends.

more on the gerund (or "why I like the CMOS")

The Chicago Manual of Style section on the gerund is one short paragraph. The Wikipedia entry goes on for a very long time, and includes "passivization," "pronominal substitution," "clefting," and "left dislocation."

And, no, I didn't make those up.

This is the sort of thing that discourages me from pursuing these sorts of questions. It makes me want to say, "That's all very interesting, if that's your idea of a good time, but I'm having too much fun writing my detective stories to take ten years off to learn all that."

Or maybe I'll just give them all the good old bilabial fricative.

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