A lengthy thought

I have a cautious relationship with grammar.

On one hand, I can appreciate that the English language (or any other) must rely on a fundamental set of rules and structure without which people just wouldn’t understand each other, and language wouldn’t be language. On the other hand, those relentless champions of grammar that I think we’ve all encountered at some point in our lives mistake these rules for unquestionable mandates, overlooking the beauty that sometimes surfaces from language when they’re broken. Most of us don’t speak in complete sentences – there are times when I finally figure out where I wanted to go with a thought halfway through a sentence. Breaking grammar is itself a form of grammar, as great writers have often managed to convinced us.

Take the run-on sentence. It’s a grammatical structure that I both hate and love, depending on the context and the writer.

There is nothing more tedious than reading a long text or a facebook message from someone who clearly didn’t read it through before they sent it. In just one punctuation-less rant we are overloaded with a surprisingly detailed weekend summary, a status update on the noodles that were just put on the stove, and the surprising intensity of the sunlight shining through their window. A mindless concoction of words and thoughts can be terribly frustrating to decipher with a sunday morning hangover, but we put up with it because that’s what friends do (and we’ve probably been guilty of one or two of those texts ourselves).

However, some of my favorite authors are unquestioned masters of the run-on sentence, and use it often because it so perfectly mimics the human stream-of-consciousness. Take Keruoac or Hemingway for example. Monstruous sentences the size of paragraphs are their forte, but reading them is anything but tedious. Carefully crafted and decidedly composed, these sentences serve a specific purpose – to convey a certain emotion and to make their characters human. I recently read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and even she was guilty of a run-on or two. In my opinion, it is nothing short of poetic to be able to convey the frustration, fear, or love that a character is feeling without ever writing those words. The run-on sentence is one tool that allows writers to do that (once they’ve grasped the correct ways in which to use it).

Because, as we learn from the world’s enthusiastic texters and Facebook messagers, it’s easy to swing and miss with this one (unlike Batman who definitely swung and made contact with Robin’s face for speaking in run-on’s… Too violent? I think I made my point).

2 thoughts to “A lengthy thought”

  1. Miriam,

    It would be an understatement to say that I put run-on sentences to full use. With a run-on sentence, I somehow seem to be able to construct a rhythm of the written word that eludes me when I confine myself to simple sentences structures. I also fully admit that my tendency toward the run-on sentence is not always well-founded. Oops.

    I love your Batman image! Being a big sister, I am quite familiar with the intricacies of Batman-Robin dialogue. đŸ™‚

    Do you tend toward run-on sentences or concise sentence structures?

  2. Miriam,

    I admire the attitude you have when looking at the English language; there really is something beautiful about the imperfections and idiosyncrasies of it.

    I also definitely agree with your love of/ frustration with run-on sentences (something seen as a big no-no in almost all academic writing). When a sentences spans the length of a page or becomes so jumbled that it becomes incoherent, the beauty of the original words disappear. But, when a writer knows how to string the words together to make it seem like something that is natural and fluid instead of forced, it is a remarkable feat.

    I am always cautious when attempting to use run-on’s, and to be honest I usually chicken out of them because I don’t want it to turn into something that looks like a mistake.

    Where is the balance? I guess I’m still trying to learn.

    Great post!

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