McAvoy Layne: Grammar R Us

As a reader of Pine Nuts might attest, we have never been a student of grammar. Grammar is why we left Jolly Old England in the first place to create a grammar of our own. And if punctuation was not one of the grievances against King George listed in the Declaration of Independence, well, it should have been.

An English professor once wrote the words, “Woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and directed her students to punctuate it…
 The men wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”
 The women wrote: “Woman: Without her, man is nothing.”

That’s why we have the all-important editors that we have. I never fear that our editor will know the difference between, “knowing your s—,” and “knowing you’re s—.” Truth be known, sometimes I don’t know the difference.
 When it comes to malaprops, nobody did it better than Yogi Berra. I remember reading Yogi’s comment, “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.” I wish I coulda known him.

Half-truths? Let us not forget George Burns, “Acting is about sincerity. If you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

The king of non sequiturs might be Satchel Paige. “I don’t know how old I am because the family goat ate the bible that had my birth certificate in it, but the goat lived to be twenty-seven.”

George Carlin gave us the seven words we cannot say on TV, and added at no extra cost, “When you’re born into this world you’re given a ticket to the freak show. If you’re born in America you’re given a front-row seat.”

For all-out cheek, Oscar Wilde might have the honors, as he posited from his deathbed, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.”

Innuendo? I would not have wanted to be complimented by Christopher Hitchens. “He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”

And too, there are half-truths. As Garrison Keillor reminds us, “He was cool enough to hold up a liquor store with a potato in his hand.”

Double entendres? The Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him most…

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Lastly, as to grammar and cats, we will leave the last word to our constant companion, Mark Twain. “Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.”

And we know how Mark Twain loved his cats. His favorite he named, “Sourmash.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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