Some interesting results from research on bullying: often, neither the victims nor the perpetrators of bullying call it that. They use the term “drama.”

Dismissing a conflict that’s really hurting their feelings as drama lets teenagers demonstrate that they don’t care about such petty concerns. They can save face while feeling superior to those tormenting them by dismissing them as desperate for attention. Or, if they’re the instigators, the word drama lets teenagers feel that they’re participating in something innocuous or even funny, rather than having to admit that they’ve hurt someone’s feelings.

Dear The Awl,

I do not think that I have never particularly cared about a single thing The Awl has written about, but I love reading it all the time anyway, because of the glorious wordsmithery of Choire, Balk, et al. However, it bothers me that there are two reasons why reading The Awl in an RSS reader is better than reading it on the site: (1) you can read as much of each post as you’d like instead of as much as the site’s editors would like without having to keep clicking “READ ON” and then clicking back and waiting for things to load and (2) you can see the name of the person who wrote it under the title of each post (i don’t know why all group blogs don’t assume that at least some readers care who writes what?).

But let us not leave it there. Let us point to this fun, which admittedly I might care about more than the average reader because said issue was the first in my subscription to said magazine and because I have actually enjoyed a couple of Dave Eggers books and other things. So, whatever. I’ll skip the story and see the movie, and I’ll try to hold in my heart a little skepticism directed toward the New Yorker’s fiction editor. And I’d urge anyone who read all (two pages!) of the post to also read enough of the comments to get to this bit by Choire:

But I absolutely do believe this is a pegged event for the promotion of the movie. Between the studio-supplied art–and I speak as someone who’s been doing a weekly silly Q&A feature for a major newspaper for the last three years or so, and for which even that little thing we would NEVER accept studio art–to the timing, to the Brand Naminess Quotient (in which you ask: would the New Yorker publish this submission from my Aunt Susan? No they would not): well, it all smells.

(Um, sorry: don’t try to parse that grammar and punctuation.)

A subtle point of grammar

The word “a” becomes “an” if it’s followed by a noun that begins with a vowel. So we have “a fool” and “an idiot.” If we insert a adjective between them, “a” becomes “an” on the basis of the adjective: “an interesting fool,” “a handsome idiot.” So far so good. The question before us today is, what if the interceding adjective is in parentheses? In deciding whether it should transmogrify itself into “an,” does the “a” look at the word in parentheses, or does it skip over that word and look to the noun following? In short, is it “a (handsome) idiot,” or “an (handsome) idiot”? (By the way, I place my question mark on the outside of the parentheses advisedly. Just because I’m concerned with the technicalities of “correct” grammar does not mean that I’m unwilling to break the rules where I disagree with them, and in some cases the “punctuation inside quote” rule is just nuts.)

I discussed this issue with several newspaper folks (Folks who, I suspect, were not quite able to get over conflating the issue with something rather separate — that it is in newspaper writing completely blinkered wrong to have a parenthetical adjective before a noun. Yeah, but I just like to use byzantine parenthetical constructions, I protested. It’s part of my style — a sort of deconstruction of the linear hegemony usually exerted by the written word. And it works for the casual nature of blog writing. And it inserts a mood of doubting and probing to writing that fits a particular mental style. But they don’t read my blog. They don’t understand. Life goes on.), and to a one they all agreed with what you are probably thinking: that the parenthetical adjective takes charge, and you get “a (handsome) idiot.”

Among other seemingly valid reasons for why this should be the case is the appeal to the spoken word. Were you speaking the phrase, you would certainly say “a handsome idiot” — it would be almost impossible not to. But parentheses are funny things, and they don’t really exist in the spoken language. Speakers may make clear verbal asides, but these do not get transcribed as parentheses — they’re typically set off with dashes — because parentheses in transcriptions cannot help but to look silly. Therefore, the appeal to sound cannot be used in arguing this particular case.

A key consideration when constructing sentences with parenthetical asides is that the sentence must remain perfectly constructed should the parentheses and everything within them be removed. The reader ought to be able to skip over the parentheses and feel that nothing is amiss. (I bet you wished you’d skipped over some of these parenthetical remarks, e.g.) For me, this is the clincher. Correct as though it may seem at first blush, I must insist on “a (interesting) fool” — a parenthetical adjective cannot be enough to force “a” to become “an.” A separate, and less clear, decision is whether a noun following a parenthetical adjective ought to. Do we really end up with “an (handsome) idiot”?

This, I guess, is the question I’m submitting to you. By the argument I’ve laid out it seems inevitable. But. Common sense interjects that it’s crazy, right? Could it be that when followed by the beginning of a parenthetical aside, “a” never becomes “an”? Could we have “a (handsome) idiot,” and “a (interesting) fool”? Maybe. Maybe, because parentheses are inherently a tool of the written word, and “an” is inherently a concession to the spoken word (however codified it is in the rules of grammar — after all, there’s nothing difficult to read about “a idiot,” right? (Or isn’t there??!)), the rule pertaining to the latter is somehow canceled out by the use of the former?

But how can this be? How does a grammatical rule get canceled out? As much as I doubt anyone can, I sure hope someone will clarify this issue. (Other than to say, “with as many other grammatical problems as you’ve got going, this ought be the last of yer worries, bud.”)

How is it a postmodern literature?

The list of 61 essential postmodern reads gives points for: • author is a character • self-contradicting plot • disrupts/plays with form • comments on its own bookishness • plays with language • includes fictional artifacts such as letters • blurs reality and fiction • includes historical falsehoods • overtly references other fictional works • more than 1000/less than 200 pages • postmodern progenitor. Nice, but where is Special Topics in Calamity Physics? (via)

Twitter vortex

Twitter vortex: So, Maureen Dowd has nothing particularly interesting to say about Twitter, but at least she said it to the company’s founder. (Then again, so did Colbert.) So then Rex linked to a post on the not uninteresting new site “The Awl” about Dowd’s dismissal, which actually summed up my own feelings pretty well. So then I noticed that Rex was using that post to compare the Awl to Suck, and Chorie quoted my complaint about The Awl, and everything got a little dizzy. All of which reminds me of my favorite editorial (mostly) about Twitter, Geoff Nunberg on Fresh Air last year (text):

The story was a natural for journalists. It combined three themes that have been a staple of feature writing for 150 years: “the language is going to hell in a handbasket”; “you’ll never get me onto one of those newfangled things”; and “kids today, I’m here to tell you.”