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Most writing taught in schools is fairly conservative. Some leeway might be allowed depending on the crowd (sorry about the rhyme...or maybe not, as we’ll see), but the usual requirements include spelling correctly, eschewing sentence fragments and the dreaded comma splice, and so forth: all the things that your equally dreaded freshman composition teacher enforces with an iron fist and a red pen. But there is a subversive tradition in the history of writing in English. It’s rare, but it’s there. Some have called this Grammar B (as opposed, of course, to Grammar A, the mainstream). Grammar B says use whatever tricks you want to get your point across. Defy the Grammar A police. Go crazy. Puns, multi-voicing, creative spelling, creative punctuation, whatever. I can afford only one class period to introduce my prose style students to Grammar B, so to illustrate it I wrote the following example some years ago. Grisly though it is, I hope you enjoy it. The full title was “To Someone with a Hammer, Everything Looks like a Nail.”

So you’re in Daddy’s workshop, ok? and you pick up a hammer, ok? A tackhammer, say. Say a tacktacktackhammer that sings to little you in its tacktacktack voice. (Put it down, you snot-nosed little brat, rotten apple of Daddy’s eye, contraception’s poster boy! The oneandonlybonafidethreebangkid!!!) (Look at Daddy scowl at you. Scowl, Daddy. Good Daddy. Makes you happy. We all want to make Daddy happy. Right, Mommy?) Tap tap tap. On the paint cans. Tingtingting (on the water pipe). Dup. Dup. Dup. Thok, thok, thok. Tiptiptip...tip...tip.

Put up with it Daddy. Keeps me out of your hair Daddy. Out of your life Daddy. Good, Daddy. Good Daddy. Gooddaddy. Sticks in your craw, Daddy. Haha: crawdaddy!

oooooo. Kitty looks like a nail. Meow nail. MeOUCH nail. Here kitty. kitty/kitty/kitty. Taptaptap. Tapdance. TAP-O-RAMA. OOOOOO. Daddy’s knuckle looks like a nail. OOOO. SSHHH!

“Mr. Jones, Thomas does not integrate satisfactorily in group dynamic situations. Some typology of dysfunctionality may be indicated, though of course we blahblahblahblah and whenever therapies are utilblah we blah you blah everybody blahblah old macdonald blahblahblah, blah, blah, blah, blah.....blah.”

DADDY’s got a hammer. His tongue’s a hammer. Stammer hammer? Yammer hammer! Yammer-yammer-yammer, all the livelong day. “After all we’ve done for you (for you...for you...for you) THIS IS WHAT WE GET!?!?!? YOU’RE JUST A BAD KID BADBADBADKIDKIDKID. BADKID.

(daddyi’mgonnabreakgodamni’mgonnabreak. stopstopstop. bangbangbang)

Casper, Wyo., 4 March, AP. Twelve-year-old Thomas Jones was arraigned here today, charged with the brutal murder of his father, Earl Jones, 63, in the basement workshop of the family home. This small western city was stunned by the shotgun slaying.

“I just don’t know what to make of it,” said a family friend who requested anonymity. “Earl was a stand-up guy with strong principles. He expected the best and raised little Tommy that way, not the way a lot of parents do today.”

Officials at Calvin Coolidge Middle School described the sixth grader as polite and quiet, an average student who had no close friends.

(little hammer/little trigger
make our Tom a good bit bigger)

puuuul the hammer back slooooowly...squeeeeze the trigger


nailed that sucker

Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is


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