Friday, April 29, 2011

Yoda Speak

Connye Griffin writes for My Writing and Editing Coach

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship. —Yoda

Besides being a wizened, gnome-like creature that seems to be one with the clay of this earth or any other planet, for that matter, Yoda is memorable because of his pattern of speech. Quite often, he lapses into anastrophe, a rhetorical pattern in which the an author intentionally alters the normal word order for emphasis. President John F. Kennedy’s memorable inaugural words are another illustration of anastrophe:

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country

Indeed many great writers and speakers have employed anastrophe to excellent effect.

• Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.—Yoda
• Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”
• The man and his skiff were silhouettes against the sun so bright that everything seemed to be a negative of itself.—Me

In each of the example above, the altered word order enriches and emphasizes the message. In the first, Yoda begins with emotions related to death and loss. Mourn and miss and attachment and shadow are all words with at least one negative connotation in usage. They are words associated with death, but with short, simple sentences (so powerful), Yoda cuts them down to size, saying mourn . . . not, miss . . . not, attach. . . not for attachment may lead to covetousness or greed. His statements take on the weight of proverbs, of truths, of axioms, and the use of anastrophe helps Yoda accomplish this.

Poe creates a similar effect in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” He enhances the horror of the narrator’s confession by pulling upfront the reasons or motives traditionally used to explain murder. We tell ourselves that there must have been an objective or heated passions or a love of gold. Poe makes sure that we understand that none of these was a factor; Poe’s narrator was simply, inexplicably driven mad by an eye.

In the third bulleted example, written by this blog author, I focused attention upon the sun’s blinding heat by placing the adjective “bright” after the noun, “sun.” Doing so allowed me to add one more alliterative word, “so,” and complete the image of a vista in black and white.

The post for April 8, 2011, entitled “From Humble It is . . . to Beauty,” provides more examples of anastrophe. In that post, I invited you to imitate the patterns of Bill Bryson and Faulkner, each of whom wrote vivid descriptions in which the adjectives were clustered at the end of the sentence. In fact, placing the adjective in front of the noun is the normal order so placing the adjective after the noun, clustered or not, is another form of anastrophe. Here are those examples again:

• Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face . . . (Faulkner)
• It is a truly astounding sight when every tree along the hillside becomes small, when the dizzying summit and brushed peak are suddenly and willingly subdued by every fanciful cloud that the sky can host—brilliant white, sun-packed gold, delicate rose, lush lavender. (Bryson)

Reading Challenge

Read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” You will find the example of anastrophe in the first lines of the story, but you will enjoy the mood that Poe creates while letting a madman try to explain the inexplicable.

Writing Challenge:

Search through your own writing for examples of anastrophe, accidental or intentional. If you do not find examples of anastrophe, then revise sentences to add the rhetorical strategy in order to add to your writing bag of tricks.

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics (GUM):

I like the word which; Microsoft's Spell and Grammar Check feature likes the word that. In fact, Microsoft's grammar feature constantly and quite consistently underscores my uses of which so that I must pay heed. Word
annoys me, especially because Word is often quite correct to admonish me.

Formally and technically, writers should choose that when the next clause contains information that is absolutely necessary to qualify or clarify the message.
For example:

Do not carry onboard devices that require batteries or electrical cords
to operate. These items include hair dryers, cell phones, . . . .

If the TSA were forced to prohibit all electronic devices, the dependent clause above, the one that begins with that, would clarify the type of devices being prohibited without the need to also provide a comprehensive list. Writers may choose which when the clause could be omitted. For example:

While most electronic devices cannot be placed in purses, pockets or carry-on luggage, they can still be packed and enjoyed when you travel. Electronic devices are legal if placed in checked luggage for which you may bear an additional cost above the price of the airline ticket.

While explaining what a traveler may and may not carry onboard, the writer chose
to add in a reminder that checked luggage does not travel free. Such add-ins or add-
ons begin with which.

[Note: To my knowledge, the TSA has no plans to prohibit electronic devices on
board airplanes. I simply made up an example. I have no inside track on the whims
and requirements of the TSA.]

Essential, limiting information uses “that” and no commas; nonessential, descriptive information uses “which,” with commas, and functions as if “by the way” were inserted after it.