RARA-AVIS: Wooden S/h/i/p/s/ Language

From: Bill Bowers ( Bill@Outworlds.net)
Date: 01 Mar 2001

>Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2001 23:17:04 -0600 (CST)
>From: billha@ionet.net
>Subject: RARA-AVIS: RE: Review of Chandler Papers

Bill Hagen wrote:

>I wasn't particularly upset by Temple's statement that "Hammett's
>equipment was
>second-rate. His prose was only slightly less wooden than that of most
>pulp-magazine writers, and there is something naive about his world view."
>Just happened to be reading Red Harvest and chuckled over the following:
> "The girls square chin was tilted up. Her big red mouth was brutal
> around
>the words it shaped, and the lines crossing its ends were deep, hard.
> "The gambler looked as unpleasant as she. His pretty face was yellow and
>tough as oak. When he talked his lips were paper-thin."
>So I'm seeing two sets of lines while balloons with words (cartoonlike)
>come out
>between; and then I'm looking at a guy who's an unhealthy yellow, but also
>the rough trunk of an oak that is regularly processed into paper.... The
>doesn't scan, except as one of those surreal cartoons from the 30s.
>Wooden--but Temple is only talking about his style, not whole novels. The
>energy, the main characters, the plot drive all keep one going. I
>wouldn't have
>even thought, much less done, a number on those lines, if the subject hadn't
>been raised.
>Course style is nice tool to have, as Chandler observed of Gardner. It helps
>one slide through some improbabilities in plot management. I always notice
>Hammett's management more than Chandler's, because there's less flash in the

Not limited to Hammett specifically, but as a result of my having read so much of the 30s/40s mystery canon in one fell swoop, a query on what -- to me -- appeared to be particularly "wooden" usage:

Characters are (virtually) always referred to as having "lighted a cigarette".

I, far too long an addict, always comes up short when I encounter that: I, instinctively, want to substitute what I would say: That I (or he/she) would light, or had "lit" a cigarette.... Perhaps it's only a result of my having spent the majority of my "English" classes reading, rather than diagramming -- but the older version just grates on me....

Of course, no sooner did I write that, than I went and :looked it up" on the American Heritage dictionary I have loaded -- and found (to my considerable chagrin) this:


USAGE NOTE: Lighted and lit are equally acceptable as past tense and past participle of light. Both forms are well established as adjectives also: a lighted (or lit) cigarette.


I don't care what *they* say. It's *wrong*, I tell you. Wrong! Wrong!

[This doesn't bother me so much in contemporary mystery fiction, in that, in these politically correct times, even hard-boiled sleuths don't smoke. They're not even allowed to keep a bottle on the desk drawer, either; just a Palm Pilot to schedule their stake-outs on... <g> ]

Bill Bowers | < Bill@Outworlds.net>
"Right now the Hard-Boiled Hero looks like a candidate for a Spousal Abuse Seminar." --Fred Zackel, Rara-Avis

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