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Monday, July 11, 2011

Comic 923: Elements of Fail

This is kind of a dull update for xkcd, but Randall manages to get so much wrong in a single panel and its alt-text that it's worth taking a look at.


Title: Strunk and White; alt-text: The best thing about Strunk/White fanfiction is that it's virtually guaranteed to be well written.

So, Randall's staying up late at night, racking his brain for ideas. I know this because, in my constant quest for timeliness and quality, I tried to stay up until the comic was posted so I could write a review on the spot. I gave up at 3AM. Anyway, sometime between then and the start of my work day, Randall came up with a brilliant (to him) idea: WHAT IF the people who wrote "Elements of Style" stumbled upon the internet and its often stone-age level of communication? Hilarity ensues!

Except it doesn't, at least not in Randall's inept hands. First of all, S&W's editors are NOT the police of the internet, or anything else for that matter. If I wrote "trash need to be taken out tomorrow" on a sticky note, I'm not going to step outside to find an editor sting operation in full force, ready to arrest me for my lack of subject-verb agreement. Likewise, the editors have no such compulsion to point out errors on the internet (which is a darn good thing for their sanities).

Next, of course, is the assumption that there's an official standard for fanfiction reference. I'm sure there's an UNOFFICIAL standard (Raven would probably know better than I {that's like saying there's an unofficial standard for trolling; it just does not exist and instead you have a full rainbow of unique kinds of awful =( -- R.Z.}), but I'm darn sure that you'll never find that standard in an formal writing manual. Probably, you know, because fanfiction ISN'T FORMAL WRITING.

The alt-text furthers this misconception. Since when has fanfiction ever adhered to its source material? I'm no expert, but it would not surprise me one bit if someone paired Chewbacca and Jabba the Hutt together in some awful Star Wars fanfiction. Why? Because they don't care about the source material beyond the fact that it gives them characters and a setting. Similarly, I don't think it's at all out of the question to assume that a Strunk and White fanfiction would be a miserable mess of the English language. You know how there are actual nerds, and then there are Randall's fanboys who just think they're smart but are actually complete idiots? I'm sure that there's a similar disparity between actual grammar and style geeks and the kind of tools who think they're smart but really just write Strunk and White fanfiction.

Finally, don't you think that ACTUAL "Elements of Style" editors would get their grammar right? Take a look at this sentence:

"Strunk and White" should be used for the style manual and "Strunk/White" for the erotic fan fiction pairing.

See the problem? The sentence after the conjunction is a fragment. "Strunk/White" for the erotic fan fiction pairing. isn't a complete sentence. It's missing a verb. This is the sort of mistake that proper editors of such a book WOULDN'T make, but of course, Randall would. Why bother to proofread things, and why bother to make sure your strip makes any degree of sense at all? That's for suckers who actually put EFFORT into their strips, not someone like Randall.

You know, I understand that you have to give a little leeway for humor sometimes. I know that not everything is going to be realistic, and sometimes that's what makes things funny. But that's not how Randall works! For his jokes to be "plausible" (and I use the word loosely), pretty much every aspect of the concept has to be turned on its head, and, on top of that, he gets things wrong that don't need to be gotten wrong. That's what makes this comic such a mess. I do think there's some distant potential for humor by combining style editors and the internet, but this definitely isn't it.


P.S. Looking closely at the text for errors made me realize something: Randall ALWAYS has his quotation marks backwards. Some early jumping around proved that this was a problem at least as early as #148 (incidentally, I now have a source for the retarded word "blag"). That just bugs the heck out of me. It's not just me, right? That's a stupid way to write quotes?

19 comments:

  1. [[[...] and "Strunk/White", for the erotic fan fiction pairing ]] would make it alright. I'm waiting for the comma to be ret-conned in.

    And no, it's just you.

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  2. Also, if it were an independent clause, there should be a comma before the conjunction.

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  3. Raven:
    How the heck would that make it alright? Perhaps that's how people talk, sure, but that has no place in formal writing.

    Anon:
    Yes, if it were an independent clause, there SHOULD be a comma. I would argue it HAS to be an independent clause, though, because otherwise a verb is between two subjects, and I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to happen. I don't even think a verb can go before a subject unless it's a helping verb in a question.

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  4. A comma stands in place of an omission, which in this case is the implied repeated verb. It's standard English practice and an accepted role of the comma. Please see Royster and Thompson's "Guide to Composition" from 1919 [look at me referencing obscure language books, now I'm doing Randall's job, LOL].

    Giraffes devoured James, and Hippos, John. "Devoured" is implied by the comma. Really, this sentence form is shitty and awkward no matter what, and he should really use a comma and semi-colon like [[ "Strunk & White" should be used for the style manual; "Strunk/White", for the erotic fan fiction pairing]] or just rewrite the sentence to be better. He's one half visual artist and one half writer, so we'd expect at least some ability to edit out awkward phrasing.

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  5. I don't think that sentence is incorrect. Why should it have to be an independent clause? You can use "and" to join a full sentence to a sentence fragment. You don't HAVE to have two full sentences if you've got "and" as a conjunction between them.

    Like I could say, "I own a hammer and a wrench."

    "A wrench" obviously isn't a full sentence, but "I own a hammer and a wrench" is a grammatically correct sentence.

    Couldn't I also say, "I use a hammer for hammering things and a wrench for tightening things"? I'm pretty sure that's correct, and it's pretty much the same as the xkcd sentence where it's basically saying "use this for this and that for that."

    I don't NEED to say, "I use a hammer for hammering things and I use a wrench for tightening things." Just like I don't need to say, "I own a hammer and I own a wrench"- I can just say, "I own hammer and a wrench."

    But you CAN'T use a semicolon to join a full sentence to a sentence fragment; you can only use a semicolon to join two full sentences.

    You don't always have to use a comma when you're omitting something. That only happens in certain special cases where the sentence would be completely unclear otherwise, like in the hippo example. When I say, "I own a hammer and a wrench," it's implied that I'm really saying "I own a hammer and (I own) a wrench," but I don't need a comma to replaced the omitted "I own." It wouldn't be correct to write, "I own hammer and, a wrench."

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  6. But, yeah, about the actual comic. I actually laughed out loud at this one. I dunno, it seems like recently there have actually been some decent xkcd comics, but this is the first one I've REALLY loved in quite a while.

    And there's definitely an unofficial standard for how you indicate pairings. The "Strunk/White" thing would be standard. I mean, come on- that's been used ever since Star Trek fanzines in the 70s. It's even where the term "slash" came from. It's been SO widely used for so long that it's essentially "correct," even if it's not in an official style guide. It's close enough to the truth to suspend your disbelief for the joke.

    As far as whether people adhere to the source material- well, it depends on the fandom and on the individual person. One of my internet friends and I absolutely hate it when people don't seem to care at all about the source material in our fandom. We're always complaining about people who romantically pair up characters who clearly hate each other, or people who write fanfiction that directly violates canon facts, or people who write totally out-of-character stuff where the characters do and say things they'd never do or say.

    Actually, just like two days ago we were talking about that and had a conversation that ended up including an xkcd reference. She was really upset about there being more Casteshipping fanfiction than Citronshipping fanfiction, and then I was telling her about this fanfiction I was writing, and we had this conversation:

    Me: They're the two main characters, but I'm not going to categorize it that way because I don't want any damn Casteshippers coming to my fic and hoping for Casteshipping.
    Her: I love your subtle hated of Casteshippers.
    Me: Casteshipping is SICK and WRONG.
    Her: And we can't have people who are WRONG on the INTERNET!

    Anyways, I get mad about people not caring about the source material all the time, and I still didn't even think of that when reading the alt text. I just thought it was funny. It's a comical association- the idea that people who write Strunk/White fanfiction would care a lot about good writing.

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  7. I have no comment on the vagaries of English prose.
    Neither do I have any comment on the valkyries of Edda prose, though they be often accompanied by ravens.

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  8. Chaos, your examples aren't parallel to Randall's sentence. Your examples are using compound objects and the "omission" is a left-out repeated subject. Randall's omits the verb and uses two different subjects and two different objects.

    "I own {a hammer and a wrench}." "a hammer and a wrench" is a compound object. Both a hammer and a wrench are "owned" by "I".

    "I use {a hammer for hammering things and a wrench for tightening things}" Again, compound object. Both a hammer (for hammering things) and a wrench (for tightening things) are "used" by "I".

    In both situations the subject and verb are the same, so the objects can be joined together.

    Randall omits "should be used for" which occurs between two different subjects and two different "objects".

    Regarding semi-colon: It's not a sentence fragment, we've just tactfully omitted the verb with a comma. But it's still there -- in our hearts. <3

    I'd like to point out that it doesn't matter whether I win or lose this argument because I got you to say "the hippo example". My day: made. [/technically incorrect use of colon]

    Also fan fiction will never cease to be hilarious. NEVER.

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  9. My day: made. [/technically incorrect use of colon]

    So is 'Gardening uphill'. Or so I've been told.
    Though, as far as incorrect uses go, I'm sure it's one of the best.

    And to a hippo with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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  10. It seems they have discovered how to rid themselves of me o'er the other place.
    If it be acceptable, I'd like to while away the day here.
    I'll play nice.

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  11. re: the comic

    Meh. Much of a nothing really. Not even worth hating.

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  12. Seriously? You're criticising 923 because of its grammar? Xkcd-sucks is Ruined FOREVER. Unless it was deliberate troll bait, of course

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  13. Everything is troll bait as far as I'm concerned. Even the mistakes -- no, ESPECIALLY the mistakes.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Re: "comic is boring"

    Well, I DID say that it was a dull update in my very first sentence.


    @Jon Levi

    1) Do you have the ability to post without linking to TV Tropes? Just curious.
    2) I'm criticizing the grammar solely because it's from the mouths of assumed grammar professionals. I wouldn't care normally, but when you put style guide editors in a strip, you'd better freaking get their grammar right.

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  15. 1) TVTropes Ruined My Life.
    2) Even assumed grammar professionals don't get it right all the time. At least I hope they don't. People use sentence fragments in normal conversation; nobody cares.

    Your Mileage May Vary (ooh, almost did it again, but I didn't), but seeing people pick apart grammar mistakes on the internet is worse than Randall fanfiction. Then again, I am trying to write Randall fanfiction, so I'm likely to be biased.

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  16. I wish I could find a sure answer to this grammar question. I tried looking it up online and couldn't find anything at all. Now it's going to bother me.

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  17. Fan fiction will never cease to be hilarious, but more importantly, never budge from its place in the Geek Hierarchy of giving geeks someone to feel superior to. Next up: furries.

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