Pronoun Trouble

This is a very silly story I wrote when I was in the final stages of editing my first book, Charming, and I thought about it today because I’m in the process of finishing my fourth book and getting it ready for submission. If you’ve never been through a professional Final Edit, I assure you the capitol letters are merited. It’s a bit like a colonoscopy and a bit like a religious experience.

So to Susan Klineman, whoever you are, with love…here is a story about grammar problems (and I am sure it has many of them). And to the rest of you, if you hate complete nonsense or bad puns, run. Run now.


by Elliott James

Things always got a little out of hand at the Lexi-Con. Whenever parts of speech got together and started drinking, boundaries blurred. Subjects could usually be identified, and the main verbs still managed to get things done, but chaos reigned among the relatively minor parts of speech, all of whom were holding down several jobs at any one time just to make ends meet. It was only natural that the minor players would vie for attention and strive to add new clauses to their agreements; there’s very little that parts of speech hate more than being contracted.

“What in the world is That?” I wondered.

“That,” said Mine firmly, “Clearly belongs with us pronouns. That represents nouns or clarifies their specificity.”

“I don’t know about That,” said Such, who along with Very and Always was just making the rounds and networking. “Sometimes That shows degree or intensity. As in, do you pronouns always have to talk THAT much?”

“Listen to Such, Mine” chimed in Very.   “Stop being such a possessive pronoun.”

“Oh, shut up, Very,” said You crossly. “The adverbs claimed So for their softball

team last year using THAT same argument, and everyone knows So is primarily a

co-ordinating conjunction.”

“Oh sure, Everyone knows,” said Always, voice dripping with sarcasm. “But only because Everyone is a pronoun just like You.”

“What? What? Speak up!” said Thyself reflexively, waking up from a nice nap in the corner. Thyself was a very old pronoun. “What’s that?”

“Exactly what we’re trying to figure out,” said You, “And then Always had to take things to extremes.”

“I resent that,” said Always.

“I do not,” I exclaimed indignantly. “I have no strong feelings about That one

way or another! I’m not convinced That is a proper pronoun at all.”

“Who said That had to be?” demanded You, who was somewhat jealous of I truth be told. Somehow, when points of view were being expressed, You was always second.

“For heaven’s sake, You,” I said with some exasperation. . “Do you always have to make things personal?”

“Besides, Who didn’t say anything.” They added helpfully. “Are you sure you

didn’t mean Whom?”

“It’s hard to keep them straight,” admitted You.

“Well, Who and Whom are relative pronouns,” said Me, who was usually very good at being objective.

“Just keep me out of this,” said Who vaguely, not looking up from a

crossword puzzle which It had made hopelessly complicated by filling in wrong answers.

“Oh, so it’s keep Me out of this, is it?!?” Me was outraged. “And Who wants to be the first to try?”

Fortunately or unfortunately, Drunk, who had mistakenly stumbled into the wrong common room, interrupted loudly. “Why am I Drunk and not Drunkly? That’s what I’d like to know.”

“Umm…” I said.

“Say someone is getting drunk,” Drunk continued obliviously. “Someone isn’t drunk, they’re getting drunk.,   So how come I’m not drunkly? I’m an adverb, not a stinking adjective! I obviously describe the getting part, because someone isn’t drunk yet.”

Someone, who was in fact on a fourth margarita, slapped a palm on the table. “Hells yeah!”

“Who cares if you’re a stinking adverb or a stinking adjective,” You said nastily. “You’re still a stinking Drunk.”

Drunk might have been offended, but at some point during You’s tirade, Drunk had passed out.

“I shot a paintball at a wall. It did not paint a thing at all,” It muttered unhelpfully.

“Oh shut up, It.” I said crossly. It was always being ambiguous. “Enough with the adverbial or adjectival concerns. This is the pronoun forum, and the question is whether That belongs here.”

I didn’t see You making frantic shushing gestures.

“For my part, I prefer pronouns which will pitch in and fill in for subjects whenever necessary,” I continued blithely. I was a subject so often that I couldn’t even tell when I was being subjective any longer. “And That hardly ever does…that. That just seems sort of commonplace.”

That – who had just walked in with This – made a throat clearing noise.

“I…” I began.

“No, it’s fine,” That said gloomily, heading straight for the mini-bar. “I just got thrown out of the article room again. Nobody wants me.”

Nobody, who actually had been secretly nursing a crush on That for some time, blushed furiously. Fortunately, nobody but Nobody noticed.

“You wanted to be an article?” For all of I’s sentiments a moment earlier, I was mildly outraged.

That waved the question off, ordering a whiskey sour. “It doesn’t matter. It’s never going to happen. Some nonsense about me being a determiner.”

Several pronouns shifted uneasily. Loose talk about articles was never a good idea.

“Bill got a dog. Bill got the dog. Bill got that dog.” That downed the whiskey with one swift tilt of the elbow. “What’s the use? It’s all politics.”

“I don’t think…” I began nervously.

“The is to blame, of course,” This chimed in. “Mr.-I’m-used-more-often-than-any-other-word-in-the-English-language. As if that makes The better than the rest of us. But let me ask you, does getting used most often make a word a ruler or a whore?”

“This, shut up!” You hissed.

“Think about it,” This insisted. “The isn’t a dominator. The is the most common denominator. You see what The is doing don’t you, You? The wants to get rid of us just like The did with Thither and Therewithal and Thereupon. The can’t stand even a whiff of competition.”

“The doesn’t want people to have options because The’s entire existence is based on a lie.” That added with a mixture of alcohol fueled rage and rash courage   “Things do not have a singular, ultimate, identity. Bill doesn’t watch the baseball game as if it were the one true baseball game that all other baseball games can only aspire to. Bill watches a game or that game. A person doesn’t run to the store. There are lots of stores.”

“That is quite enough.” They stood up from the armchair facing the fire place and ripped off a fake y hanging from They’s chin like a large beard.

“The!” You gasped.

“And I’m not alone,” The sneered. Action verbs suddenly materialized as if from nowhere. Hide, Cloak, Conceal, Obscure, Blend, Blur, Camouflage, Obfuscate, Disguise, Shroud, and Screen seemed to peel themselves off from the very walls and flanked the pronouns. More ominously, behind those verbs of subterfuge emerged several more thuggish and aggressive verbs such as Capture, Restrain, Hold, Bind, Truss, Imprison, Detain, Incarcerate, and Seize.

“Take That,” The commanded. “And throw That to the prepositions.”

All of the pronouns gasped. The prepositions were animals. They would use That like an object.

“You’ve gone too far The,” I accused. “It’s all very well to say that you’re the most commonly used word, but you can’t actually sentence us.”

The verbs, however, had armed themselves with punctuation. Herd forced several pronouns back with vicious back slashes. Intimidate fired bullets over their heads. I was quickly enclosed within two brackets.

“It seems some pronouns need to be modified,” The intoned ominously.

The unruly language proved hard to confine, however.

“They went that way!” He said.

“They went this way!” She said.

In the confusion that followed, It became hard to identify.

And the pronouns had a contingency plan. Him and Her were the first to begin to fade, but We quickly followed, and then Them and They.

“What’s happening?” Desist shrieked.

The tried to begin by saying the word “They” and realized the pronoun was no longer a communicable concept. “The pronouns are fading from common usage,” The said dazedly. Are…insane?”

All of the other parts of speech found communicating without pronouns laborious.

“What should…the action verbs such as…the action verb speaking right now…do?” Restrain wondered.

“How can…stop…pronouns?” Overwhelm grunted.

The tried to start a sentence with some concept for “We” and gaped and gasped like a fish trapped on shore. The was facing a disaster and knew as much. The very words The was struggling to use were quickly devolving into some kind of proto-language. People would not tolerate social discourse where nouns had to be repeated endlessly. Esperanto was quietly making a comeback, unobtrusively claiming more and more territory every year, and Texting was making noise about breaking off and becoming an individual entity.

The was no idiot. If matters proceeded along the present course…was only a matter of time before The would inevitably be dragged into some anonymous interrogation room surrounded by dangling modifiers, coerced by an alliance of being verbs and conjunctions. There would be hard questions for which The had no satisfactory answer.

“All right!” The screamed, and was then reduced to speaking in the third person. “The gives up! Pronouns win! The and verbs are leaving!”

At which point, The and the offending action verbs sullenly filed out of the pronouns’ common room.

One by one the pronouns began to rematerialize, joined by This and That. There were no cheers.   Exhausted, shaken. the pronouns silently took seats or found corners to huddle in. It had been a close call, and they all knew it.

“Say!” Drunk exclaimed. Drunk had just woken up and was taking in the charged and changed atmosphere warily. “What’s what?”



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