Subtly unadaptable to Eastern life

Last night I came across this phrase for the second time. I thought, “wow, what a great phrase,” then realized that I’ve thought that thought before. I did a quick digital sift through my college documents folder and found it filed under Sophomore Fall / American Lit II. Then, just like now, it caught my eye as I read The Great Gatsby; then, like now, it served as a title. So I took the opportunity for a little Throwback and read over the essay I so dramatically keyed out at the ripe age of 20. 

My parents always told me not to judge my {insert age here}-year-old brain with my {insert current age here}-year-old brain, but I couldn’t help cringing as I read through the essay. I referred to Gatsby as “the adulterous character” — ouch. Then I talked about Daisy being “brutally defenestrated” … what on earth? Did I really think she got thrown out a window and completely missed the plot of the book in my haste to get homework done, or was I trying to accomplish some kind of extreme metaphor? And oh, the overuse of adverbs: living joyously, initially enticing, brutally defenestrated (still, what?), desperately suggested, searching fruitlessly, contrasting starkly and, of course, intricately depicting. 

I think the prompt of the essay was how Fitzgerald depicts the Roaring 20s. I said he did so with a critical eye, an answer that I’m guessing stemmed from my own critical eye, one that wasn’t subtly or un-subtly adaptable to anywhere besides Orange City, Iowa. My 20-year-old brain missed the nuances, the quiet awe and revere Nick Carraway has for the city that let him down. No wonder his disappointment and cynicism is so great — he had a great fall from initial excitement and confidence.

But all that criticism isn’t the reason I’m here writing this. I’m here to give a shout-out to the beautiful writing of F. Scott when he talks about the “Middle West.” Can we please start calling it that again? Without further ado, my favorite passage from The Great Gatsby:

“That’s my Middle West — not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common that made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.”

The Great Gatsby

Note to self: re-read in five years and revisit. 

What-I-Searched Wednesday

Hi! This is probably not going to be a weekly post, but lots of bloggers do “What I Ate Wednesday” (I know) and… I’m not *quite* there yet. (Though if you’re curious: it’s ending with a large glass of 2011 Keller Trocken Riesling from the Rheinhessen and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. But that’s not important right now.)

I’ve been searching some weird things, some that have to do with grammar and punctuation, and some that are just things. Here’s this week’s list!

  • What I searched: “down slope”
    What I found: should be “downslope” (Merriam-Webster)
  • What I searched: “well-situated hyphen or not?”
    What I found: Word was grammar-checking it because of the context: “The building is very well situated” (if it was “the well-situated building is north of Napa,” there would be a hyphen. Shout out to the Hyphen post.)
  • What I searched: “correct date punctuation”
    What I found: I had totally forgotten that when writing the date, the year gets a comma too, even when it’s not the end of a dependent clause (like “On June 11th, 2011, I got married): “January 2nd, 2009, was a day that I knew I’d never forget.”
  • What I searched: “vicinage”
    What I found: basically, it’s a synonym to vicinity. From Merriam Webster: “a neighboring or surrounding district: vicinity.” Now we know how to talk about a vicinity but sound smarter!
  • What I searched: “What does e.g. stand for?”
    What I found: e.g. stands for “exempli gratia,” Latin for “for the sake of an example” (or literally, example that is free), and is used to clarify something by example. i.e. stands for “id est,” and is more like “that is…” clarifying by clarifying.Bonus points for Google Images for turning out this image as the top result for “what does e.g. stand for”:

    egg-sample

  • What I searched: “BEO” (because i.e. reminded me of acronyms that I don’t know, and people keep saying BEO at work when talking about events and I keep nodding my head and pretending to know what it stands for)
    What I found: Banquet Event Order. Woo!

To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate?

I’m working on proofing a document for a freelance gig, and came across a couple *fun* grammar/punctuation trickies today.

1. “Two and a half miles.” To hyphenate or not to hyphenate? Compound adjectives can be tricky; usually I go by the feel of the sentence: the well-lit balcony. The densely-populated city. Post-secondary education.

A site called Grammar Monster helped me out on this one, calling out the numbers as compound adjectives that need to be hyphenated. They call out an interesting example:

  • two-and-a-half million
  • two-and-a-half-million miles

In the first example, million is a noun; in the second example, it’s part of the number and thus part of the compound adjective. My go-to grammar site Grammarly had some mixed messages, concluding that it kind of depends on what manual you’re using and how the phrase is used. Today, I chose the hyphens: “two-and-a-half miles.” The tricky thing is to get hyper-hyphen syndrome, and put them between every two-word combination (see what I did there?), thereby compromising the integrity of your compound nouns, some of which have hyphens (shout out to the mother-in-law!) and some don’t (bottle shock, bus stop). The rule of thumb: check if the set of words is describing something. If it’s not, it’s not an adjective. It still might get hyphens if it’s a compound noun (mother-in-law), but that applies to a specific set of vocabulary which we don’t have time for right now.

Note: searching Two and a Half on its own doesn’t get you very far.

Image

Thanks, Google, for the math lesson and pop culture reference.

2. North, south, east, west: when to capitalize these guys?
My sticky sentence read “two-and-a-half miles North of Napa” after I hyphenated the number, and as I stared at those two N’s, I realized that this was one of those High School English things that never stuck (further/farther and bring/take still sends me to Google).

So I consulted a couple sites, which provided a great refresher:

  • Capitalize when they’re used as proper nouns: I’m from the North, living on the West Coast.
  • Lowercase when they’re adjectives: the best margaritas are found in the southeast corner of the plaza. We’re heading east of the winery for a bite to eat. The vineyard is two-and-a-half miles north of Napa.

And ta da, I lowercased that guy. Then proceeded to write this blog post because I thought it was interesting. Confessions of a grammar nerd, everyone. 🙂

Hope y’all* are having a great day!

Emily

*Next grammar post: why we should all say y’all way more, and why I spelled it wrong for twenty-four years.