Friday, May 28, 2021

Andy Young: Emerson (and related subjects) in ascending sentences

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle


It’s me.

Your weekly columnist.

I’m trying something new.

Because, well, why shouldn’t I?

It’s important to keep life interesting.

And everyone should have a stimulating existence.

At least, that’s what I think right now.

Doing the same thing every day would truly stink.

All work and no experimentation would make me awfully dull. And no one needs tedious essayists in their life, do they?

But some weeks don’t yield a whole lot of decent writing fodder.

Sometimes journalists (probably not the right word here) must generate their own inspiration.

That’s why I’m trying to produce a new kind of 600-word column this week.

If you’re averse to change, fret not; there are still exactly 50 dozen words here.

This week’s difference: each sentence will contain exactly one word more than the previous one did.

Which is why this sentence consists of exactly seventeen words, since the previous one contained but sixteen.

This is the 18th sentence so far, so I’ll have a total of 171 words at its conclusion.

My favorite quarterback when I was young was Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts, who wore uniform number 19.

This may not be as easy as I thought, since after this sentence I will still need another 390 words. 

But they’ve all got to fit into another fourteen increasingly lengthy (and potentially confusing) sentences, which isn’t going to be easy.

Some powerful messages can be expressed in just ten simple words, like, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Sometimes only four words, such as, “I have a dream,” can evoke powerful emotions, and inspire otherwise ordinary people to do great things.

Other memorable four-word phrases include, “I am the greatest,” although Muhammad Ali never did specify exactly what it was he was the greatest at.

I wonder if Ali, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Martin Luther King, Jr. ever wrote a sentence as utterly devoid of meaning as this one is?

“A stitch in time saves nine,” and, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” are both familiar and widely recognized idioms.

Semicolons are most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two independent clauses that are closely related in thought; I think I better start using them.

The other option, which would be to construct the sorts of sentences I regularly upbraid my high school English students for, would be equal parts humiliating and hypocritical.

Sentences that contain more than two conjunctions (“and,” “but,” “so,” etc.), include more than two commas, or go on for more than three lines can accurately be called “run-ons.”

I can’t decide if my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote is, “The reward of a thing well done is having done it,” or, “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”

Wait a minute; he also said, “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” ”People only see what they are prepared to see,” and, “Every artist was first an amateur.”

In addition, the Boston-born essayist and abolitionist, Harvard-educated lecturer and philosopher, ruggedly individualistic poet and champion of transcendentalism was also quoted (ironically) as saying, “I hate quotations; tell me what you know.”

But how would Emerson have completed a 600-word essay where each sentence contained exactly one word more than the previous one, when he discovered, after 34 sentences, he had five words left over?

I can only hope that the ardent lover of nature, fierce opponent of slavery, and passionate advocate for women’s rights would ultimately have elected to do the same thing I’ve decided to do here.

Yes, this is the end. <

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