Ablativus Absolutus

By Cyberquill 01/27/201031 Comments

My previous post contained the following sentence:

Weapons of mass destruction or no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, being located smack in between Iran and the Saudi Arabian oil fields, with Saddam and his murderous Oprichniki removed as a regional stabilizer of sorts, I guess there’s little chance of pulling out of there until such time as we’re all driving solar vehicles.

A former-sort-of-coworker-turned-Facebook-acquaintance of mine (not the gentleman pictured above) kindly yet forcefully lamented that something was “very wrong” with this sentence and that it made “no sense,” grammatically speaking.

Yet I contend that my sentence works just fine, as it is structurally modeled upon the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

This antiquated construction is called an “ablative absolute.” Recast into modern parlance, the amendment would read thus:

Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Perchance due to its somewhat antediluvian grammatical structure, the Second Amendment continues to engender confusion and controversy as to its precise meaning; but that’s a discussion for another day.

Here’s my sentence stripped down to its structural skeleton:

Iraq, being located between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Saddam removed as a stabilizer, there’s little chance of pulling out.

Recast into more modern English:

Because Iraq is located between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and because Saddam has been removed as a stabilizer, there’s little chance of pulling out.

I believe my sentence is structurally identical to the Second Amendment, hence perfectly sound. A mite arcane and cobwebby, perhaps. Wrong, no.

My former-sort-of-coworker-turned-Facebook-acquaintance apparently disagrees and has officially vowed to give up trying to “edumacate” me on proper grammar.

But I no I dun nuttin’ wrong.

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  • dafna

    thanks for the only laugh i had today!

    it was a day like no day. are you a contributor to Uncyclopedia?

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      No. I’m an occasional contributor to my own blog, that’s all. Sorry you had an unfunny day overall, and you’re welcome for the laugh. May I ask what exactly it is about my post that you find so amusing? Do you agree or disagree with my proposition that the sentence in question is structurally identical to the Second Amendment and hence grammatically impeccable?

      • dafna

        i did subscribe to this thread, so i only saw your response today. as per usual i had to look up the definition of a word (or two) after reading your blog.

        the word in question being “edumacate” -- which to my surprise and joy led me to Uncyclopedia, hence the guffaw.

        as one with no aspirations towards becoming a writer, i would be the last to opine on sentence structure. thanks for asking.

        i will say you are being hard on the XX’s -- it is often better to be kind than be correct. (as a carrier of two X-chromosomes i don’t need the last word) And, would gladly accept help finding the correct word!

        • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

          I’d never heard “edumacate” myself until the double-X sufferer referred to below introduced me to it.

          It may be better to be kind than to be right, but it’s a lot more fun to be caustic than to be either. A popular Austrian comedian of yesteryear once said it was better to lose a friend than to pass up a punch line. Couldn’t have said it better.

  • Former-sort-of-coworker-turned-Facebook-acquaintance

    Disagree! Disagreeeeeeeeeee!!!

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      Whether only mildly misguided or utterly off the reservation on any given issue, a carrier of two X-chromosomes, being internally wired such that the mere thought of not having the last word in a dispute ineluctably precipitates suffocation symptoms, the above commentatress understandably lacks the capacity to admit to having been routed in the debate.

  • http://www.testazyk.com Thomas Stazyk

    I think your construction is (a) gramatically defensible, (2) coherent and (3) elegant. Does the Facebook acquaintance have a substantive issue or does [he or she] just prefer staccato neatly packaged sound bites?

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      Thank you for your support. As far as I could glean from her complaint, her substantive issue was that she took “Iraq” as being the subject of the main clause instead of as the subject of one of the subordinate ones. And yes, she likes to bite.

  • http://andreaskluth.org/ Andreas

    I take your side grammatically, Stylistically, however, did you intentionally want to be as circuitous as that amendment? After all, its wording has given us all sorts of trouble.

    PS: Some of your readers may now take away the wrong message and produce dangling modifiers in the hope of matching your ablativus absolutus.

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      I didn’t intentionally choose this particular construction. That’s just how the sentence happened to flow from my cyberquill. I immediately moved to recast it, but then I realized I had subconsciously employed an ablative absolute--yet another subtle indication that I am forsooth, as I had always suspected, the reincarnated James Madison. Except perhaps for a disparity in height of a few inches, the two of us are virtually identical: like Mr. Madison, I am the quiet type who prefers writing over speaking, and I don’t like leaving my house too much.

      At present, I am putting the finishing touches on my California Plan, which I shall anon submit to your governor for consideration at the Sacramento Convention, which I expect to take place shortly, as it was recently held--you may have heard of it--that “California is the first failed state.”

      My plan will include, in order to prevent a similar disaster in the future, a clause which sets forth that once appointed, every Tonight Show host shall hold his or her Office during good Behaviour.

      I know, of course, that everything I post on my blog inevitably spreads through the World Wide Web like crabgrass and the collapse of the wave function, and I am mindful of the possibility of misguided emulation attempts which may result in dangling by a few overzealous acolytes. However, upon carefully weighing risks vs. benefits, I adjudged it appropriate--indeed necessary--to reintroduce the ablative absolute construction into the public discourse, so as to rekindle an informed debate upon the true meaning of the Second Amendment.

      • dafna

        witty, very witty.

        you admit that you did NOT intentionally choose the construction in question, yet the “Quill That Could Kill” will defend the usage of ablative absolute with the full force of the Second Amendment.

        well done.

        • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

          Exactly. And I don’t really care about the First Amendment too much, as all my writings are adequately protected by the Second Amendment, i.e., my right to keep and bear a killerquill.

  • dafna

    hello peter,

    in the interest of not being “overly polite” (andreas advice), yes your blog design is visually exhausting. BUT, good design is rare and great design even more rare.

    the flash tags make me feel like i’m playing a video game.

    you have an over abundance of wit and your writing is NEVER exhausting. do you wish to be perfect in all things? how greedy 😛

    as for your caustic “potential” -- i have yet to see you wield your wit on any post in a manner that would wound.

    it is obvious that you could easily tear to shreds many a dumb-ass comment i have seen -either it’s not in your nature, or i just have not seen it.

    these blogs really do attract the nicest people -- but how little we know from a post. thanks for you attempt to understand my aphasia, it did not go unnoticed.

    i only post when my head does not hurt and i am in the WTF mood about the word soup i produce.

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      Politeness is a slow poison. I know. Please don’t spend too much time on Andreas’s blog. The man is clearly a very bad influence on you.

      My design was pretty exhausting to cook up, so the least I can hope for is that it’s exhausting to look at. If I were to design a house, the interior would look exactly like my website. Of course I’d provide complimentary blindfolds for visitors lest they may pass out from inadvertently looking at the walls for too long.

      Regarding my flash tags, I know there are way too many tags on too small an area, but quite frankly, I can’t figure out how to enlarge it. That’s why I stuck the stupid thing all the way on the bottom of the column. It’s not really meant to be used to find anything. But since it is a bit like a video game indeed, I may start charging people for playing and make a comfortable living that way. Could work. What do you think?

      As to wounding and tearing people to shreds, I guess you’ve just not seen it. If I had a dollar for every time I got blocked or deleted on Facebook, or every time someone stopped talking to me for good in other venues (such as real life), I could buy myself a 5-bedroom condo on Park Avenue. (Maybe not a condo, but a venti caramel mocha at a Park Avenue Starbucks for sure.)

      I’m not sure I understand aphasia in all its neurological implications, but I always liked the word, because it sounds like the perfect title for a Broadway show.

      Word soup. Yum. May I have a spoon please?

  • dafna

    “As to wounding and tearing people to shreds, I guess you’ve just not seen it.”

    as you say perception is all. you know yourself best. i know you not.

    it is very hard to get “unfriended” or blocked by a face-to-face friend. what did you do?

    the reverse is true of “the anonymous FB friend”, it should be considered an honor to be unfriended or blocked by some of these.

    word soup sucks. it would be a living hell to a writer.

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      Unsouping the word bisque is an editor’s job.

      Roughly 75% of those who unfriended and/or blocked me are real-life acquaintances, so it’s really not that hard. I guess I erroneously assume that those who know me are more capable of attaching the proper tone of voice to my words, and hence I’m less guarded in what I type and how I phrase it. Oops. Besides it’s all women, so no particular reaction surprises me … unless, of course, I get the reaction I expected, which always surprises me.

      • dafna

        if it is all women who summarily dismiss you, and you are not the issue, then pick better XX friends. most people who care will ask for clarification before they cut you off. it should be common courtesy.

        tone is very easily mistaken in email, FB, blog etc.

        • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

          People generally don’t follow common courtesy etiquette when they’re mad. And just because some of them don’t wish to furnish farewell explanations is no reason for me modify my friend selection methods. It’s not like they’re running off with all my money and my flatscreen.

          Given that the majority of human communication occurs non-verbally (tone of voice, body language, etc.), it follows that in written conversation it is the reader, not the author, who creates a good deal of the substantive content of a message by imagining the non-verbals. So in effect, when people get all bent out of shape over written comments by others, they are, at least in part, flipping their wigs over their own creations, i.e., they’re mad at themselves.

          Ideally, we should all be mindful of the possiblity that, in writing, everything that can be taken the wrong way will be taken the wrong way, and modify our phrasing accordingly in situations when getting folks into a lather might lead to genuinely disasterous consequences beyond merely ruffling a few feathers and losing a few contacts.

          • dafna

            you are correct. people project meanings onto written content. i projected my own feelings onto your words. i would be bothered by a face to face friend cutting me off entirely without making an attempt at clarification.

            i am concerned about friends, but would hope that even “contacts” would think me worthy of a “what do you mean?’ before shoving off!

            • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

              Friends and contacts will ask for clarification when they’re not sure how a comment was meant, but not when they’re sure, mad, and mistaken.

  • http://www.testazyk.com Thomas Stazyk

    What did you do? Take a strong stand on breast feeding in restaurants?

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      I work hard, and when I’m hungry, I ask for milk. Women sometimes impute indecent ulterior motives to my request for nourishment.

  • dafna

    dear peter,

    “Friends and contacts will ask for clarification when they’re not sure how a comment was meant, but not when they’re sure, mad, and mistaken.”

    perspective is everything -- it seems you are o.k. with the behavior you have come to expect.

    i do not have many friends and contacts but i give and have come to expect a “what do you mean?” (no matter the circumstance)

    once or twice i have experienced what you describe and have found it to be with personality types that are completely phobic of any form of “assertive behavior”, they interpret a “what do you mean?” as a confrontation or accusation.

    i don’t invest time in someone who shows signs of the habit you described. (now full irony would be if YOU blocked me he, he ,he) my “tell” would be “off”

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      Sometimes people react impulsively, and I’m not entirely innocent of it myself. Human psychology is complex, and that I-don’t-waste-time-with-folks-who attitude may in itself be no more than a lopsided impulsive reaction, most likely a reflection of detecting in others qualities that we dislike about ourselves.

      • dafna

        thanks peter,

        how sweet the advice 🙂 (on the rare occasion i give unsolicited psych 101 advice it is not received well) note andreas blog. what the hell came over me? i never offer unsolicited psych analysis FACE TO FACE!! so pointless, like talking to someone with cotton in there ears.

        nope, the avoidance of repetitive patterns is a judgement call. i give friends or connections fair warning -- perhaps you misunderstood.

        i am far from perfect, but i take a long time to react and even longer to overreact. i’m OCD so i don’t trust my first reaction. i must ruminate before i assert.

        look, you’ve described a pattern… one that you don’t seem to concerned about. XX’s both friends and connections ditch you without so much as a “say wa?”

        reversed; i “say wa?” to those who are sure, mad and mistaken, giving them an opportunity to say… “oh what i really meant was, etc. just having a bad day etc.”

        however, if the pattern persists to where the person repeatedly insists upon unintended meaning and wants to ditch me, despite clarification -- why put myself in the path of that bullet?

        isn’t that the definition of insanity… doin’ the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

        human nature is not as complex as you think -- you are just so very young 😉

        • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

          I merely stated that human nature was complex. I didn’t say how complex I thought it was. Human nature may be simple regarding its relative predictability, but the mechanisms which trigger our reactions are somewhat more complex. As an analogy, it’s fairly easy to predict what’ll happen when we hit a knee with a mallet, but the neurological wiring which causes the lower leg to jerk upwards is far more complicated than the jerking motion itself.

          Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result may be the definition of insanity indeed, but I’m not really doing anything. The party that’s throwing the tantrum which leads them to terminate all further communication is doing all the work. I just sit back, relax, and watch my contacts disappear one by one.

          Doling out advice--no matter how well-intentioned-- is always a tricky undertaking, as doing so almost always engenders a defensive reaction of some sort, be it ever so subtle. Thus, unless one is hopelessly naive, the motive behind giving unsolicited advice is not because one seriously expects the recipient to go Oh wow! Thank you sooo much! and follow it, but to find out the manner and degree of his or her ensuing defensiveness.

          Anytime we give advice, we are, in essence, suggesting that the recipient modify one or more of his beliefs, emotions, or behaviors. Given that we, as human beings, strongly identify with our beliefs, emotions, and behaviors--in other words, our beliefs, emotions, and behaviors are who we are--every suggestion to modify any of them is liable to come across as I don’t love you the way you are, and a defensive reaction is virtually guaranteed. Has zip to do with the substance of the advice itself.

          • dafna

            he, he, lucky for me typos don’t bother me… although i’m always happy to have them corrected.

            my grammar must have been messy also. what i meant was “thank you for what i perceived was unsolicited advice” BUT it is not “a lopsided impulsive reaction, most likely a reflection of detecting in others qualities that we dislike about ourselves,” which causes me to say i don’t invest time in someone who shows signs of the habit you described.

            although that would be a very valid psych 101 analysis if it applied. humans most certainly detest most in others what they detest most in themselves.

            i wasn’t referring to you, because you don’t mind people “throwing tantrums and walking away”, you don’t need to change a thing! i did give you unsolicited advice at first -- “choose better XXs”, but i thought i issued a retraction (“i was projecting my own feelings”)?

            the comment about repeating the same thing was about me… people who are “sure, mad, and mistaken” bother me. i avoid them. that is not the way i treat others, therefore i do not expect to be treated that way. fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and we’re through.

            i always offer/accept clarification before i throw the baby out with the bath.

            so what’s worse word soup or a post full of idioms? when words fail, use platitudes.

            as for unsolicited advice -- the blog format seems to bring out the worst, since it would seem i just realized my comment to choose better XXs was unsolicited. apologies for the crap advice.

            i don’t offer unsolicited advice for a different reason than you described. it’s pointless because someone won’t make use of it until they are ready to hear it. at that time, advice is often received with gratitude not defensiveness.

            this will make the writer in you cringe because of the redundancy. i often preface with, “would you like to receive some unsolicited advice?” it becomes clear rather quickly if the person wants to buy what you’re selling.

            he, he i managed to insert one more idiotic idiom.

            thrice on the blog format i have projected feelings and interpreted tone on the blog, thrice i have been mistaken. that’s three times more that the last three years in face to face world.

            • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

              Nothing wrong with idioms. English is a highly idiomatic language–make over, make out, get by, do in, kick back, knock up, down under, etc.

              What you’re referring to, I believe, are not idioms but clichés. Indeed, clichés should be avoided like the plage–or worse: like adverbs!!!

              Clichés ought to be shunned to such a degree that Stephen King didn’t even bother to mention them in his book.

  • dafna

    opps, feel free to fix typos if they bother you 🙂

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      Yeah, the “opps” bothers me, but right now I’m more in the mood to bitch about it than fix it.

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