11/16/2010 04:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Drinking the Literary Kool-Aid

I think there comes a time in everybody's life where they have one really great idea, an idea that will make them not only filthy rich, but wildly attractive to double-jointed strippers with loose morals concerning bisexuality. And then comes the moment where you do a little research and realize someone else has already capitalized on that idea.

My dad did that very thing with "Jamba Juice." My uncle had the idea for a juice bar that would compete with my dad's juice bar, but it turned out that "Juice It Up" also already existed. I myself thought that I invented bulimia.

In the literary world, this is much more of a gray area. Take for instance, all the kerfuffle over The DaVinci Code. This guy over here saying he wrote it first, and that guy over there saying he wrote it first and gave it bigger tits ... it's almost enough to make you quit writing altogether and just go play video games. Especially since there exists the standard literary convention that there are only seven original stories and Shakespeare already told them all.

One of my recent columns (Setting Sail With the Language Pirates) bit me in the ass yesterday after I read an article of unholy length written by David Foster Wallace (he the author of Infinite Jest), originally scribed for Harper's magazine, but reprinted in his delightful collective of essays entitled ... oh hell, I don't know ... something about lobsters... (if either of us really cared, we'd look it up or remember it in the first place). And no, that wasn't the title, but it is something equally as arbitrary.

Long story short, my article, a revolutionary stance on the rules of grammar, pronunciation, and even the very essence of what a word can mean, isn't so revolutionary after all. Well, it turns out there is a highfalutin term to describe people who engage in this very activity: Descriptivists. Sure, being a "Descriptivist" is not as colorful as being a "Language Pirate" (maybe I'll write them and offer the use), but the point is, someone else was there first. And what really roasts my ass is that they even have an equally pompous-sounding nemesis -- the lexiconically strict Prescriptivists. Us Language Pirates only ever briefly did battle with the Hyperbole Armada, and even then, it was only a drunken fistfight outside an all-ages roller disco that ended prematurely when I vomited stale Pinot Gris on their Grand High Inquisitor of All Time & Space.

When I began Mr. Wallace's treatise on language and the mutual distrust fostered between Descriptivists and Prescriptivists, I was all set to write this article as one of those flag-waving polemics that takes twice as long to write because you keep one hand firmly mashed to your chest where you think your heart ought to be found. I was for the Descriptivists; all hail Descriptidonia! But then the more I read, the more I realized: Language does need rules. Grammar exists for a reason, and it's a pretty damn valid one... I'm not going to tell you what it is -- you'll have to wade through Mr. Wallace's love-tome-to-himself on your own for that nugget, but know that it is valid.

I used to skate by on ignorance I guess is the point I am making here -- but no more! I'm turning over a new leaf, forfeiting my patent application on bulimia, and learning to write gooder. Sorry ... what I meant to say is that now, as a born-again Prescriptivist, I'm learning to write more good. This is the literary equivalent of when Sandy came out at the end of the movie Grease all decked out in a tight black bodysuit and smoking and you thought, 'Damn, she changed her entire belief system just to please a man.' Well guess what, Mr. Wallace? (Jeff steps out in black skintight bodysuit, has cigarette, and is singing a bit off-key) I got chills... they're multiplyin'... and I'm losing control..."

I'm hereby putting a bounty out on all Language Pirates! If you are caught using an improperly placed modifier on U.S. soil, I will nail your hands and feet to a large wooden cross and mount it in the desert where you will suffer with no water under the merciless glare of the sun. It is a little punishment I invented called "Hot Sun Wood-Sticking," and I think it might just make me rich.

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