Friday, February 12, 2010

Life Sentences #8

Possibly ‘inspired’ by Marcel Duchamp. Inspired in any case.

Once upon a lousy time in college – could have been most any day I was in the vicinity of a college: could have been when I was teaching at a college instead of attending one: it all blurs into a sort of cooperatively ignorant haze in my memory – I heard someone talking in the English Department hallway about verbs, about how verbs were all about action and wow, a life without action in it simply isn’t a life! Total bullshit. Consider this sentence, which is what I should have said to that person in the English Department hallway: You are a dumbfuck. Are is your goddam verb all right, but where’s the action?

Speaking of which, my mind wonders toward progressive verbs lately, if only because ‘progressive’ is a word that seems regularly to annoy the double-chin crowd over at Fox News. How much you wanna bet Fox News would support a ban on progressive verbs in the nation’s universities? Of fucking course they would. They’d be wasting their jowly wind-bags, though: most universities aren’t teaching progressive verbs in the first place because progressive verbs, as it turns out, aren’t very progressive after all. Progressive verbs – like journalists used to be back in the day, back when journalism was really journalism – summarize activity better than they specifically express an action.

Prime example (not from Fox News, obviously): Mike is stuffing his rear wheel in the toilet. Is stuffing is our happy little present-progressive verb, and if you think about this conjugation, you can see that it doesn’t isolate one instant in time. If you ask the question What’s Mike doing? and receive the answer He is stuffing his rear wheel in the toilet, you can conclude logically that it’s going to take more than an instant to stuff that wheel in. Is stuffing, therefore, refers to a collection of instances working together in concert as an activity not an individual action. The simple present tense – stuffs – is the verb we have for precise action. Mike stuffs his rear wheel. That implies a nice, neat, complete action with no hard feelings afterward. We want that. More than anything.

Lordy. Getting scary around here, ain’t it?

Oh, and if we’re bored, which we apparently are, we can shift through time and space with progressive verbs, too.

Backward: Mike has been stuffing his rear wheel. See how present perfect progressive (which we now know is more than a mere member of MoveOn.Org) actually moves backward in time and summarizes an activity leading back into the present moment?

So because today is Friday, because I’ve got a shitload of work to do this weekend, not to mention riding bike and walking dog and watching Olympics and perhaps, in a Viking ritual involving fire, separating animal flesh from animal bone, I’m all about looking forward.

Behold, the future perfect progressive:

Sentence of the day:

By Monday morning, Mike will have been stuffing his rear wheel in the toilet for forty-eight hours.


By Morning morning (a time marker, a prepositional phrase functioning as adverb), Mike (our always-willing subject) will have been stuffing (transitive verb, present perfect progressive tense) his (indirect object) rear wheel (direction object) in the toilet( prepositional phrase functioning as adverb) for forty-eight hours (another motherfucking time marker, another prepositional phrase that functions as an adverb).

Further analysis:

I love bicycle wheels. In case you didn’t know that. I’m pretty sure ‘dumbfuck’ is one word, too. Fifty-percent sure, anyway.

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