Tag Archives: Songs of Love and Grammar

naked text

its international punctuation day so ive given punctuation the day off after all on mothers day were supposed to give mothers the day off right im also giving capital letters the day off because why not they can go and have a nice lunch with the punctuation marks

i have recently talked about how much less useful the apostrophe is than we generally believe it is i would not say the same about other punctuation marks nor capital letters although people often have a very hard time getting capitalization rules straight

to celebrate id like to present another poem from my book songs of love and grammar please buy it or ill think you dont like me

getting naked

i met a woman young and fair
who liked her skin to feel the air
now im not wedded to convention
but i felt some apprehension
when i got to know her better
and she sent me this short letter
it is time that i should tell
i keep my text au naturel
i know that this will sound uncouth
but i believe in naked truth
in every place and situation
shed the chains of punctuation
doff the clothes of upper case
and stand revealed on white space
now i dont mind it being nude
but naked text at first seemed crude
however now its plain to see
that form and sense are both more free
and so we read our morning papers
sprawled in bed we serve up capers
in the kitchen we grow flowers
in the garden we take showers
in the bathroom we go hiking
on the mountains its our liking
to go swimming every day
in the pond in a cafe
sip a coffee or just run
on the trail our life is fun
my only cause for consternation
is some miscommunication
if my lover should insist
on writing on the shopping list
get some mustard greens and tea
do i buy two things or three
and now i have this little note
that concerns me and i quote
darling i think love is great
with others i would hesitate
to give my all to none but you
i feel open can you too
as i read it twice im guessing
if shes offering her blessing
to monogamous relation
or some other situation
its one thing when going shopping
now im faced with chamber hopping
in this textual revolution
can i find a real solution

parenthesis, parentheses

Sometimes in the tall grass of your text you will find – or insert – subtle interruptions, like panthers gliding through, making momentary disturbance and then leaving all as before: places where the author may slip little side theses between pairs of parabolas to set them apart from the parent clause. Asides, in short.

A parenthesis is an aside: it is something put in beside. The word parenthesis was assembled in Greek from παρα para ‘beside, around’, ἐν en ‘in’, and θέσις thesis ‘placing’. Originally, parenthesis (singular) refers to the aside itself, the text that is indicate by a shift in vocal tone, a turning away of the head, a setting apart in the text, before a return to the tone, position, or flow as before. When the practice came about of setting it apart with these curves ( ), the entire assemblage was first called a parenthesis, but since the bumpers travelled in pairs it just made sense, ultimately, to refer to them in the plural. And the plural in this case is a Greek-derived plural: just as we say theses rather than thesises, we say parentheses.

Or you could just call them panthers if you think you could get away with it. They do have that sleek, sometimes predatory nature. Allow me to cover parentheses in greater depth with a poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar (available at lulu.com or amazon.com; also available as an ebook from the same sites).

A parenthesis

Parentheses: cradled hands holding your message,
neatly bestowing a soft little blessage
(so much more peaceful than the visual rackets
that may be created by using square brackets).
They’re a velvet ink bag to soften hard words
(or a little surprise gift, loaded with turds).
Say your friend (a co-worker) sends you an email
suggesting (or foisting) an unattached female –
a little blind date (or myopic at best)
who’s eager to meet you (or willing when pressed).
Are you free (it’s been set up) on Friday at 9?
You can meet (if she shows) at the Savoy to dine.
She’s heard all about you (it goes without saying)
and she says you sound nice (she’s been told that you’re paying).
So you put on your suit (Goodwill, $10.98)
and comb down your hair (not much work) for your date.
She’s awaiting, with perfume (or bug spray) anointed,
and she seems quite demure (probably disappointed).
You order some drinks (loosen up things a notch);
her tastes are refined (she takes single-malt Scotch).
You make conversation (one word at a time);
you find she’s quite eloquent (just like a mime).
You think that she’s pretty (the drink’s kicking in),
and she smiles dreamily (she has moved on to gin).
The food comes (at last) and it’s simply divine
(like food offered to gods – burnt and sprinkled with wine).
Your date has filet mignon (charcoal briquette);
you went for the chicken (to stay out of debt).
For dessert, it’s Napoleon (from water loo)
and the chef’s special (leftover) tiramisù.
The mood is romantic: you look in her eyes
(or, anyway, somewhere ’twixt forehead and thighs).
You feel that she’s warmed to you during the meal
(it’s the closeness that comes from a mutual ordeal).
You call for the cheque and slap down your gold card
(two full meals and twelve drinks, tax and tip, damn that’s hard).
You offer to walk her home (can’t hurt to try);
she accepts (she’s afraid she’ll fall over, that’s why).
When you get to her door, you make as to kiss
but she blushes and turns (she’s afraid she would miss).
But the evening ends well – witness plans that you make
to talk in the morning (she’ll nudge you awake).
Ah, parentheses – they let you keep your composure
and charm (while still offering total disclosure).


A word such as by is really too basic and multifarious to do a tasting of the usual sort on it. Instead, I present a poem – another from Songs of Love and Grammar.

Joined by fate by April

Last fall I was hit by a stop sign
by a truck that failed to stop;
the driver was caught by a red light
and sent off to jail by a cop.
I was taken away by an ambulance
and laid by a nurse in a bed
in a hospital built by a river
and by morning was back from the dead.
I was kept in a room by the river
by the nurse to heal and stay.
I was seen by my bed by the window
by the nurse twice every day.
I was healed by the power of beauty:
I was struck by the nurse’s face
and blown away by her lovely lips
by the time I left that place.
The nurse was known by April
by friends and by people about
and, by George, she was called by the next month
by me to ask her out.
By April she had been courted
by me for half a year
and by then it was time for a ring
to be given by me to my dear.
We were wed by a tree by a lake
by a hill by the moon by a priest
and the joining by God was feted
by the stars by our friends by a feast.
Now I’m joined in my life by April
and by fate we will never be parted,
and my wall is bedecked by the stop sign
by which this all was started.
By the wall a cradle’s been placed,
and by April all will know why:
by and large, my April’s grown pregnant,
and we’ll have a child by and by.

Unrequoted love

A friend recently got a tweet from an interested chap in which he used quotation marks in a way she, as an editor, did not approve of. I was put in mind of this poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar:

Unrequoted love

I’m getting letters from my dear,
but I’m not sure that she’s sincere.
I see the way she ends her notes:
the phrase “I love you” is in quotes.
I really don’t know what to do,
for if she’s quoting, quoting who?

Although I know it seems absurd,
her every gift is but a word:
I send you “hugs”, I send you “kisses”
That’s it? Some kind of present this is!
She writes, I “miss” you, and I see
the missing is mere irony!

Well, I think I know what to do:
I’m writing her, I “miss” you too.
My “love” is such, if you were here,
you’d get “a diamond ring”, my dear.
My “life” shall be at your disposal –
I wait for “yes” to my “proposal”.

She sends mere quotes? I send her same!
She’ll know that two can play this game!

If you enjoyed that, there are five dozen more in Songs of Love and Grammar, available for just $12 on lulu.com and amazon.com.

A naughty chemistry poem

I think it’s about time for another poem from Songs of Love and Grammar (my book of salacious verse about English usage, available at Lulu.com and Amazon.com). This one is a naughty chemistry poem – by which I mean both a naughty poem about chemistry and a poem about naughty chemistry. It is larded with abbreviations from the periodic table – e.g., Fe for iron. To read it correctly you need to read the abbreviations as the full names of the elements. If you’re stuck, no worries: I’ve made a video of it.

The elements of lust

I met a chemist just by chance
in the Pd at a dance.
I’m a bit of a B the dancing floor,
so I thought I’d try a little more.
I asked, “Would it be much amiss
to lead a Rn your mouth with a little kiss?”
She said, “Oh, please, don’t get me wrong.
It’s just – your W inches long.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s fun for play,
though when I it’s in the way.”
She said, “Then let’s be somewhat bolder,
with my right Ne your left shoulder.
The days Ar when I would shy –
they’re dead; let’s Ba, say bye-bye.”
My sense of shame I’d S a Ni,
so we commenced some slap and tickle,
but even I turn Cd red
to think of where our actions Pb…
The host told us we had to stop or
we’d be dragged off by a Cu;
it took some Au to Fe it out.
But this adventure left no doubt:
in love, I’m not so sentimental…
I’ll take a girl who’s elemental.

Now here’s the video:

The various chemical symbols, which have to be pronounced as the full name of the element, are: Pd = palladium, B = boron, Rn = radon, W = tungsten, I = iodine, Ne = neon, Ar = argon, Ba = barium, S = sulfur, Ni = nickel, Cd = cadmium, Pb = lead, Cu = copper, Au = gold, Fe = iron. Note that the I in line 10 is iodine, not simply the first-person singular pronoun. Cadmium red is a bright red.

She’s like all that you know

I think it’s time to feature another poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar, saucy verse about romantic and morphosyntactic difficulties. This one revels in the rich depth and frank economy of lexis of a certain adolescent idiom. I have done you the favour of reading it in a video. You’re welcome.

Here’s the text:

She’s like all that you know

by James Harbeck

I know this girl, and she’s all that –
she’s like, you know, she’s got it all,
and she’s all “Guys are all like that,
but you’re, like, not like that at all.”

So I’m like, you know, “What’s all that?
So did you dis me? Do you like me?”
And she’s “You know it’s not, like, that.
You know I know you don’t dislike me.”

So I’m “Like that’s just all I know!
I know you know I know, you know?
So no, it’s not a dis, I know.”
And she’s “I know. I’m just, you know.”

But no, you know, it’s not like that.
That’s just, like, all. It’s just, you know?
Cuz that’s just her and I’m not that.
I like her, like you know, you know?

But now, you know, it’s all “That’s all,”
but, like, no, that’s not all at all,
cuz she’s a girl who has it all,
and, like, I’m just like that, is all.

Don’t tell me no lies

For the weekend – and maybe a day or two after – I’ll fill this space with another piece from Songs of Love and Grammar (still available on lulu.com or amazon.com for just $12), about double negatives and negative concord. A friend of mine says he’s thinking of setting this to music. I’ll let you know if he does.

Don’t tell me no lies

I met a little lady from way down south
and I thought she was kinda sweet.
She had a tasty tongue in a cowgirl mouth
that said things you’d wanna repeat.

“I don’t never go for that city stuff –
I like my drinks and men smooth and hard.”
And I said, “Won’t you leave me when you’ve had enough?”
And she said, handing back my credit card,

“I don’t want none of your money, sweet,
I don’t care for no one but you.
I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how to cheat –
that ain’t nothin’ I’d wanna do.”

We had a little drink and we had a little dance
and we painted lots of red on the town,
and pretty soon we had ourselves a fine romance
and I took her out shopping for a gown.

Oh, I bought her a ring, and I bought her a home,
and I got her set up nice and neat.
But sometimes I’d worry she would use me and roam,
and whenever I did, she’d repeat,

“I don’t want none of your money, sweet,
I don’t care for no one but you.
I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how to cheat –
that ain’t nothin’ I’d wanna do.”

So now why am I sittin’ with my head hangin’ low
with nothin’ left, not even pride,
wonderin’ where my sweetheart and my money did go
and how I got took for a ride?

My gal was a master of verbal predation,
a lawyer who took her reward –
she tripped up my ears with double negation
that I thought was negative concord:

“I don’t want none of your money, sweet,
I don’t care for no one but you.
I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how to cheat –
that ain’t nothin’ I’d wanna do.”

The double negative is one thing the prescriptivists won on. English had negative concord for a long time – if you negate one part of a phrase, you negate them all for consistency, just as in some languages you make the adjective feminine if the noun is, for instance. Romance languages still use negative concord. But by the 19th century it was pretty much vanquished in English by appeal to “logic” (rather than appeal to Latin, which actually uses negative concord). And yet in many “nonstandard” versions of English it’s still used – and understood. After all, language doesn’t actually work like math. But the “standard” rules – put in place by the legal class, in fact – are what prevail in law.

Oh, and all those -in’ endings? That’s another thing prescriptivists won on. By the 18th century, the –ing suffix had come to be pronounced as “-in” by everyone (because the tongue is drawn forward by the vowel); rhymes by English poets of the time don’t work with the “ing” version. But the spelling hadn’t changed, and so it was insisted by those who taught the stuff that the ending should be pronounced as written. Nonetheless, while the formal standard has changed, the old way hasn’t been eradicated. By the way, saying “-in” isn’t actually dropping the g; there is no g to drop (ng is just how we write the sound – do you heard a “g” in there? only in words like finger). It’s just fronting the consonant – from the velum (at the back of the mouth) to the alveolar ridge (near the front).

To split the sweet infinitive

Instead of a word tasting note today, I present, for your entertainment, a video of my poem “To sweetly split the infinitive” from Songs of Love and Grammar. I think you’re going to really like it. 😉


Some words make me salivate, they’re so saucy and delicious. This is one such. It doesn’t hurt that it has a naughty tone that I deeply appreciate, but even less lubricious words of its sonic ilk – featuring voiceless tongue-tip fricatives and perhaps a liquid – are a pleasure on the tongue: salsify, loquacious, sausages, lissome, saucy, luxurious, Alsatian, shillelagh, relishes, English usage, Carol Fisher Saller…

Who is Carol Fisher Saller? She’s an editor, the author of The Subversive Copy Editor. I am put in mind of her not just because of the sound of her name (though that comes into it) and not just because I have a durable case of lust for words, but because when I think of salacious I think of words. Specifically, I think of a book of salacious poetry about English usage: Songs of Love and Grammar.

No, I’m not making that up. I’ve already made it up – it’s written and lain out and is at last available on Lulu.com. It’s my new book. I’ve already used one poem from it here, “My veil of tears.” Herewith I would like to present another. In case you were uncertain whether it was possible to be indelicate about a split infinitive, I’ll let you judge for yourself:

To sweetly split the infinitive

by James Harbeck

A fetching young virginitive
sought out a buff grammarian
both lusty and contrarian
to split her sweet infinitive.

She said, “Please do it neatly –
I’m sure ’tis not a sin
to slip an adverb in
to split an infinitive sweetly.”

He asked, “Where would I fit it?
It seems an imposition
’twixt verb and preposition.”
But she asked him sweetly to split it

before her mood had passed,
“for all the best writers do it.”
So together they went to it
to sweetly split it at last!

Ah, there it is. And I assure you some of the poems are more salacious than that (others merely deal with romantic and grammatical highs and lows, and a few just play with words).

But let us return for just a moment longer to salacious. What kinds of things are usually called salacious? The Corpus of Contemporary American English tells me that we most often read of salacious details, salacious material, salacious allegations (lovely sound, that one), salacious stories, and salacious gossip, among a few others.

And what other words may be seen to have similar senses? By Visual Thesaurus, one branch touches obscene, lewd, raunchy; the other ramifies to lustful, lubricious, prurient – I like that better: those are pricier words, even if their common nexus is the sense “characterized by lust.” Oh, but lust is my favourite deadly sin. Gluttony leaves you full and fat, sloth leaves you sleepy and fat, greed and envy eat at you, pride comes before a fall, and wrath is just plain old unpleasant. But a dirty mind is a constant source of entertainment… as long as you don’t go trotting after it wherever it leads.

Where does salacious come from? From Latin, of course, the tongue of Catullus and Martial, two noted Romans of lubricious loquacity. Its source is not so salty; it is rather a salto, a sally, a flying leap – salire, “leap” (verb). Yes, prone to leaping. If you know what I mean. Well, the Latins did: it was they who went from salire “leap” (also “jump, spurt”) to salax and salacius “lustful”, the immediate etymon. It is suggested that it is related to the sexual advances of male mammals.

But that’s all so beastly and brutish in its literal sense. I much prefer the literary sense. There are many tricks a well-trained tongue may get up to…

Now go buy my book at http://www.lulu.com/shop/james-harbeck/songs-of-love-and-grammar/paperback/product-20080621.html.