Monday, April 23, 2012

My Pop-Pop Got an Apple TV when He Moved to Kuala Lumpur

My brother has a website called on which he collects original, bizarre, and absurd sentences that he and his cohort have overheard.  The most recent is: "Miles Standish [sic] enjoys harpooning dinosaurs."  Though funny, that one doesn't quite have the punch I like from my original sentences; it occurs to me that whoever said, "Miles Standish [sic] enjoys harpooning dinosaurs" was trying to be original, bizarre, absurd about the Plymouth Rocker, and was in on the joke.

To me, is at its best when it collates the unintentionally odd.  In order to find one of these--a sentence that is more than just a witty, self-aware remark--I go back to May of 2011: "The water has been so high that I haven't been to the mine to pick up my boat yet."  This sort of line implies a backstory I'd like to look into, implies a life separate from me, implies something about the tangly weave of the human afghan that I like to curl up in.  I love it.

An early sentence in the pantheon of originalsentence, similar in its sincerity, was, "My grandfather got a Kindle when he moved to Ecuador."  This was uttered in Washington, D.C. on August 24th, 2009.  (The date is important).  That Christmas, Megan and I had t-shirts made, emblazoned with this sentence, and we gave them to Stephen. (We thought the shooting stars were a nice touch.)


But now for a bit of amateur linguistic analysis, the point of which is to show why that sentence was funny (and why it has become less interesting in the interceding years).  The operative words in the sentence are "grandfather," "Kindle," and "Ecuador."  A normal sentence of that construction might run, "My friend got a car when he moved to California."  All of those words make sense together; a peer has purchased a thing that he will need in a particular place.  

What made the "grandfather" sentence funny was that "grandfather" was a step or two removed from what one might normally hear in this consumer-ish context, and so was Kindle (not a thing we needed back then), and so was Ecuador.  At that time, we weren't all associating novelty electronics with grandfathers, or with Ecuador--an under-the-radar country of 15 million that most conventional pop-pops probably haven't visited.  

So, the Mad-Libs-y mix of nouns seemed gleeful, and my brother and I maybe reveled in the fact that the sentence was probably said by a self-righteous parody of a person we wouldn't want to be seen with (e.g., a person who might also say, "My au pair's Segway was useful in Gstaad.").

Two-and-half years later, none of this seems quite as novel.  Grandparents regularly have Kindles, which now seem like mildly outdated devices.  And though Ecuador is still kinda out-there (or down there, or east of us--my favorite half-fact has it that all of South America is east of all of North America), it's now firmly within the boundaries of normal-living that a grandparent might get a tablet when moving south.  Our own grandmother is on the cusp of moving to Arizona, and it's likely that instead of transporting her books about Irish architecture and Regis-y charmers, she might just trade them all for a Nook.

The speed of technological outreach plus the speed and flexibility of language renders that once-original sentence now somewhat passe, equal almost to the statement from 1909: "My grandfather used a telephone to call Philadelphia."

This is not a criticism of originalsentence.  Instead, it shows that the sporadic compendium of offhand remarks can be a useful diary, and more than a repository for Myles Standish fan fiction.

(Grandma: if you read this on an iPad, please call me).


OriginalSentence Admin said...

If you'd like the spontaneous context to the Myles Standish line (or the Kindle line), we'd be happy to provide it.

Dave said...