Thursday, December 19, 2002


I'm having another scattered-brain day, please bear with me. Blame it on the rain. Blame it on Rio, for all I care, just don't make me take any responsibility.

Miss Ella Neous

I wonder sometimes how many punned drag-names there really are, out there in the big world. I've known quite a few, and it often turns out that there's another one with the same name. Back when I was doing my time in the Courts (the drag courts, sweeties, not the law courts), there were a few great names like SoHorny Beaver and Raven Madd, and farther but more elegant reaches for puns like Courtney St. James and Honey Hush (though most of us just had first-names-only, which meant something to us individually). And nowadays, in my travels, I come across other good puns... such as Rula Planet, Ivy Drip, Grace Fully, Cookie Dough, and Daisy Wynan-Roses of the Galaxy Girls. Miss Daisy's name evolved at a Halloween party, where a particularly talented punster was in attendance... also born that night were the lovely names Stella DeKnight and Miss ConcepciĆ²n. A few more favorites I've met or heard are Olive Asudden, Hedda Lettuce, and Iona Chrysler.

What's funny, though, is that ever so many gay men will do drag on Halloween and will light upon one of the oldest, creakiest dinosaur chestnuts of a punned drag-name, and think that they were the first to think of it... I don't know how many proud new dragsters have graced themselves with such "original" monikers as Patty O'Furniture, Anita Mann, Sharon Needles, Em Ergency, Polly Esther, Ann Orexic, and so on and so forth, little wotting that drag queens have been around for eons and eons and that all of these names are venerable antiques. Puns are, after all, the lowest form of humor. But one likes to encourage drag in the gay community (and in the straight, or anywhere else I get to see a boy in a dress...grrrr), so one refrains from bursting their little bubbles.

Here are a couple of good links for finding a tired old dragname for yourself!

Yo Momma's a Grammarian

I found myself doing a Google search yesterday because I couldn't remember what, exactly, a dangling participle is. So I found this lovely and really quite useful online style guide, and discovered that I was quite wrong as to what I thought a dangling participle was. In fact, the two sentences I just wrote (and the clause I am writing now) contain what I thought a dangling participle was... i.e., ending a sentence with an inactive verb, which I have always considered to be in bad taste, leaving that poor defenseless irregular verb just hanging there with all those terrible ill-placed prepositions. It simply doesn't look right, and it kills the flow. But a dangling participle is, in fact, when your verb subject and your sentence subject do not agree. Huh.

Those who have suffered the lash of my grammatical correctness will be surprised to learn that I always failed the grammar sections of English classes in junior high and high school. I couldn't remember what dangling participles were, how to differentiate between the direct and indirect objects, and in which instances one modifies a transitive as opposed to an intransitive verb. It was all very confusing. Yet I nevertheless have always managed to understand and produce grammatically correct sentence structures. When challenged on my knowledge, I would always reply "Well, because it sounds right." I grew up around educated people, or people raised by educated people, and have always been an avid reader of the professionally printed word... and so I have, in effect, learned grammar by osmosis.

The problem with something "sounding right" is that people in America speak all sorts of different dialects, come from all sorts of different social classes, and have access to all sorts of different levels of information and entertainment. Therefore, not everyone's ear will be offended by a preposition or inactive verb at the end of the sentence, as mine sometimes is (but not always, obviously). Not everyone gives a rat's cunt about who versus whom. And then, those who are more familiar with the spoken word than with the written word will have no idea how to differentiate soundless notations, such as where apostrophes and commas and semicolons belong... not to mention the spelling frights.

Those who follow educational brouhahas (or would it be brouhahae?) might remember a laughable little movement that came out of my hometown Oakland a few years ago, that staple of comedy shows called "Ebonics." This is another example of where a really good movement is pulled down by the stupidity of its heralds. The whole point of the Ebonics movement, back when it got started among a number of linguists and educators in the Bay Area, was that pedagogical method should not undervalue or villainize the spoken word when teaching writing skills. Linguists showed that the so-called "bad grammar" used by African-American people is actually a distinct dialect with history and rules and phonemes and regional subdialects; and that by treating this dialect as a corruption or a lazy misusage of "correct" English, educators were discouraging people from learning to write, sparking a rebellious nature in the students by telling them that their own language was wrong.

The old wisdom that "ain't" isn't a word has had the effect of disenchanting people with education in many ways... it devalues a person's cultural awareness when that person is told that the way he or she speaks, which is the way his or her parents and grandparents and friends and neighbors speak, is incorrect. People do not learn when they are told they are stupid. And so studies were conducted in order to find ways of bringing writing skills to the people who use the African-American dialect... because any linguist worth his or her salt will know that the written form of a language is always different from its spoken forms.

Though one can replicate speech (with its regional accents and colloquial usages) in the notations and symbols of writing, there are rules for writing that have nothing to do with the spoken word... they are constructs of notation that have become a separate form of communication. All you have to do is compare the script of a stage-play with a copy of a famous novel on which it was based, and you will see that the forms are different... not just because fiction must describe actions that would otherwise be seen on the stage, but because writing is an entirely different medium than speaking. And as such, it becomes the lingua franca (that is, a foreign language held as a common communications tool for people of diverse languages in trade with each other) within its given language... people who speak many different forms of English can still read a proper sentence. And so formal written English, with all its rules and weirdness, functions as the "common language" of communication between English-speaking people.

But by forcing the rules of written English onto the users of spoken English makes it more difficult to learn the written forms... unless you happen to come from a family or neighborhood or subculture where everyone happened to have gone to college and learned to speak in this fashion, back in the olden days when language was a mark of class and people all wanted to be in the same class. The whole point of communication is to make yourself completely understood by the largest possible number of people; unless you are an actor or a politician or a news anchor, the number of people to whom you would ordinarily speak is limited to the people immediately around you... but the written word goes everywhere.

So go ahead and say "ain't" until your tongue falls out, say "this is what I'm here for" until the end of time, say "who do I give this to" all you want; but please keep track of your participles, prepositions, your whos and whoms, and most importantly your spelling, whenever you write anything in business or academia (I was going to say "anywhere in public," but I would never suggest that ignorance of written structures should stop someone from communicating). If you aren't sure of something, make an effort to read style guides so you'll know... everything in this world is learnable. And if you're going to start a modern educational linguistics movement, don't call it something stupid like "Ebonics" and don't let people with physical speech impediments take it to the media. That's just suicide.

O Tannenbaum (or tan-your-bum)

I'm almost done with my Christmas shopping... I have to go to Piedmont Avenue and pick up this gift for my coworker BB, which I thought I'd bought but I didn't; I have to get a baptism present for BB's baby, too, who is getting sprinkled this Saturday (I have no idea what kind of gift is appropriate for such a thing); I have to get something for my impossible-to-buy-for Uncle, who needs nothing and has no known hobbies and no visible interests outside of his job and running errands; I have to get something for my cousin Kellie and her two children, who are flying to and fro so the gifts should be small enough to be transported in a suitcase. Then I'll be all done! Yay!

I have to stop spending so much money on myself. On every shopping trip for Christmas gifts, I have come back with at least one gift for myself. Yesterday I went to Tower Records to find a CD that I'd heard at one of my favorite bookstores and wanted to procure for Shiloh & Zach (Patricia Petibon, wow! One of the most poignant and evocative voices I've ever heard), as well as the Baryshnikov Nutcracker on video for the kids (yeah, right, for the kids), but also ended up buying three more CDs and a video for myself. If I keep this up, I won't have any money to spend on my birthday!

But at least the Christmas shopping is almost done, it's one of my biggest headaches (I love shopping, but it's always so hard to do find things for other people). Now I get to concentrate on getting the house clean (there's a big brightly-lit tree in my living room, but all the ornaments are still in the boxes that are littered all over the room... and the dining room is an utter sty), wrap all of my presents and all of Grandmother's presents (resorting to no-effort gift bags whenever possible), do some baking and a lot of grocery-shopping, go to a baptism, perform in a drag show, close up the office, and try very hard to not go insane. Then it will be Christmas, and then Jhames is coming to visit (I'm so excited!), and then I will turn 35 (about which I am somewhat less excited), and then it's New Year's, and then... and then... and then... Oh, hell, I don't need to think about it. Live for today, aim at Christmas, and the rest will take care of itself.

Maybe I could hire one of these to do my cleaning and wrapping for me... if only I hadn't spent all my money on the presents.

PS: as I was editing the above at around 6 p.m. (that's how long it takes me to edit a post after I've finished writing it), a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses came to the office door to spread the Word to any Chinese-speaking people in the building. I didn't know they were still around, I haven't seen Jehovah's Witnesses in forever!

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