When I teach grammar, I try to come up with attention-grabbing example sentences. The ones that come in textbooks are notoriously dull (“The person went to the place to get the thing.”), so I want to juice it up a bit and inject a bit of my trademarked brand of life into what most folks see as a dreadfully lame subject.
Here are two examples of standard favorites in my classes:
I kicked the freshman.
“Freshman” receives the action of the verb “kicked,” so it is the direct object.
I threw Paris Hilton a live grenade.
What did I actually throw? Paris Hilton? Good gravy, no. That would require touching her. No, I threw a grenade. That makes “grenade” the direct object. Paris Hilton received the direct object, making her the indirect object. And, hopefully, soon to be an irritating, repressed memory.
This demonstration shares a bit of the twisted humor of Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s classic grammar “textbook,” The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. Gordon’s approach is to present clear, sprightly explications of general grammatical matters with examples that tend to be about supernatural, nocturnal creatures interacting in the prosaic lives of hapless mortals of a dizzying variety of idiosyncratic bents. (The book never makes this explicit, but I suppose the title character is meant to represent the fact that a transitive verb, like a vampire, only functions when it has an object upon which to act. Cute, yes?)
I labor intensively, ripping asunder the very dendrites of my brain in Herculean attempts to come up with more than few clever example sentences in class; Gordon has filled an entire book where every page presents at least a few laugh-out-loud such sentences.
- The robot designated the dentist his partner.
- There are five more cupcakes than we have frosting for; I’ll leave them for that loner by the river.
- Sophie, abandoning her rented canoe, exchanges pleasantries in the shade with a newt.
- The debutante and the troll shot the breeze, sobbed and shuddered, and bared their souls till dawn.
One running gag concerns hints of potentially scandalous, sordid goings-on:
- The pelts, shed and tossed into a muffled heap, behaved with placid decorum while a cacophony of bestial bellowings proceeded in the adjoining saloon.
And she sometimes even gives us just a plain old pun:
- We waltzed Lisztlessly.
Most pages are adorned with random, bizarre reproductions of 19th century woodcuts, accompanied by baffling, mismatched quotes from the text. These illustrations are rarely comprehensible, but always funny. The example sentence, “Everyone and his uncle is studying podiatry,” is paired up with pictures of a flapper in her parlor, a shrouded wraith looking sinister, and some kind of mer-duck reading a book.
Be warned that many of the illustrations concern artsy, statuesque partial nudes, so this one may not be the best introduction to grammar for your kindergartener. The material covered is fairly simple stuff, and could be used to great effect for instruction, though I think it’s best suited for those who already know some grammar, or at least appreciate it, and are looking to have some fun with its lighter side.
If you’re going to read The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, it will be useful beforehand to know that a samovar is a metal urn used in Russia to heat tea, and a schloss is a German castle. Just trust me.
Writing this post, I googled author Karen Elizabeth Gordon, and to my surprise found nothing. No Web page, no blog, no blurb from the publisher, no interviews, nothing. No Facebook page. Why isn’t she more popular? Why didn’t the success of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves resurrect this book the way Lord of the Rings resurrected Willow? She wrote a few more books after this; where is she now? Did she just drop off the face of the Earth, like some jaundiced proto-protagonist who had haunted the pages of her syntactical tome until he met his gleeless fate when swallowed by some creepy ether? K.E.G., where ye be?
All these faux-Gothic shenanigans aside, this book was a joy. And I think it taught something good about grammar, too.
But I do wish more of the examples had been about the trilingual solitary. Now that guy sounded interesting!
Final Grade: A