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Thursday, July 7, 2005 06:30 pm

The ogler’s [sic] secrets

In these times when our president struts his bottom-of-college-class standing and our governor jokes of his low ACT score, I find it easier to admit my language ignorance.

Of course, our academic failures are not our fault but, rather, the fault of our respective educational systems. And I, for one, admire both the president and the governor for championing educational reform — so that the likes of “us” never happen again.

I’m not familiar with the president’s educational system or the governor’s system, but by my educational system I mean Sister Mary Serene and her Blessed Steel-Edge Ruler of Repentance.

Sister Serene was the toughest person under 5 feet who ever lived, and though she pretended to take a two-week religious sabbatical each year, we students knew that she was off training the Olympic boxing team in the proper delivery of her crippling Bolo Punch of God’s Wrath Upside the Head.

The good sister was also magic. If you tried your famous “yawn trick” and slipped your arm around a girl’s shoulder at a Friday-night movie, in the last row, where no one could possibly see, Sister Serene would magically know of your sick deed. When you came into English class on Monday morning, she’d administer the Repentance Ruler, if the girl rejected your arm; or God’s Bolo, if the young lady in question did not remove the offending yawn-appendage.

I was “administered” often and no doubt deserved it because I was, at 17, a serial ogler. Not my fault (of course) — it was Theresa O’Brien’s fault for flashing me 2 inches of bare shin above her ankle. It was 1959, and any girl flashing 2 inches of barenaked shin was out-and-out asking to be ogled, ogled hard!

I was deep within a mind-numbing ogle when the sainted sister “doubled” me: first struck with the Blessed Ruler and then, when I was distracted by the searing pain, she blindsided me with a Wrathful Bolo.

The topic at the time of the “double” was punctuation in the possessive case before a gerund. To this day I’m hands-shaking afraid of gerunds, even though I don’t know a gerund from a gerbil. To be safe, I fear all punctuation — and all gerbils. Forty-eight years later I still suffer a recurring nightmare of a bloodthirsty gerbil in a nun’s habit trying to decapitate me with a semicolon.

I managed to escape the educational system, graduating with my ignorance intact. And now that ignorance is popular, I’m comfortable sharing a few ignorant survival secrets.

Punctuate by breath. Write it. Say it aloud. Then, whenever you take quick breath, insert one of those punctuation thing-marks. A deep breath naturally calls for a new paragraph. It’s a method best used if you’re in decent health and your delivery turns out as “It was a dark and stormy night.” Not so palatable if you’re short of breath and cough it out as “It, was a, dark, and, stormy, night.” But even short-breath punctuation is acceptable if you. . .

• Establish literary license. Immediately — as in, can “Immediately” stand alone? Or as in, half the sentences in this article are fragmented. No matter — all is tolerated once literary license is bestowed.

Admittedly, establishing your license can be a gamble. For example, the always challenging assignment, “What I did on my summer vacation” may be answered in literary license by submitting: “Ask some %$##@ rich kid who took a vacation! Not me! Who slung me out burgers in a $%##!! fast-food joint all summer.”

In these simple 24 words you have violated 83 percent of all generally accepted rules of grammar and, if you’re not expelled on the spot, you know you’ve established license to write however you wish — all the way to graduation.

• Testing the premise. Where’s the required question mark in the following paragraph? Answer. It’s in literary license.

• Which segues us into “quotation marks for emphasis at the end of a sentence.” Does the little mark thing go inside the quote mark, as in “Man, he’s ‘big.’ ”? Or outside the quote, as in “Man, he’s ‘big’ ”. Both conventions are incorrect — never use “big”; always use “huge.” Or “huge”.

• Sic. The dictionary defines “sic” as “What I just wrote may seem a mistake, but it’s not.” A godsend to the ignorant — use it often.

• Consider putting brackets around [gerbil] lest the murderous beast escape and “colon” someone.

• [Sic]

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