Grammar in the Real World – Updated

3rd Person Insultive, 1st Person Aggressive, and more

So, I got an email this week that was just incredibly hostile, a pointed personal attack written in a strange and strained, passive voice, 3rd person construction. In describing it to someone else, I jokingly referred to its construction as the “3rd person insultive” case.

And I liked that—both because the humor relieved some of the awful sick feeling of it, and because it seemed true. So now I’m wondering what other constructions of grammar we’ve experienced. I’ll start making a list of mine, with suggested definitions. Please add to it as you discover your own!

-3rd person insultive—a personal attack written in the passive, third person “some people have been”

-1st person past invective interrogatory—a verb form of regret and/or anger, used when reviewing something that happened which, in light of what has happened since, has become enraging, hurtful, or distasteful, as in “damn it, why didn’t see that coming?” or “fuck, I should have known when she….” or the infamous “Jesus H. Christ, I can’t believe I let myself do that for her.”

-1st person aggressive—denotes the out of control use of “I feel” statements, or when these statements are used to dominate a person or group or control the outcome of a decision

-future empirical—used most often by remote, “scientific” voices calmly explaining that Y must and will happen because of X and because That Is The Way Of The World

-2nd person past imperative— the verb form embodied by “You should have!”


-1st person past regretative
—as in “I should have!”

2nd person passive-aggressive infinitive—as in “If you are going to disagree with me then there is nothing to be done/said.”

from Karen Escovitz:

-2nd person hostile projective—in which the person slings insults or accusations which are more true of themselves than the identified target

-passive accusatory—used most often by batterers, bad parents, and State Departments, as in “why do you go on making me hurt you?

-past perfect mind fuckative—where the person distorts things in such a persuasive way that it leaves you disoriented and questioning your understanding of reality (usually 1st or 2nd person?)

-2nd person victim blamative accusatory—as in “you let people take advantage of you” or “if you hadn’t been there in the first place, maybe that wouldn’t have happened”

from Sheila Allen Avelin:

-2nd-person accusatory interrogative— “How could you?”

from Adina Abramowitz:

-2nd person I know you better than you do—As in “You always . . .” used to escalate arguments, as in “you always make a mess” or “You always leave the toothpaste cap off.

from Alicia Ostriker:

-2nd person aggressive interrogative—as in “Why are you frowning?”, “Did you finish the cleanup?”, “Are you sorry?”, “Where were you?”

from Jenn Sheffield:

3rd person exculpatory—a point argued using someone else’s purported opinion to protect oneself, as in “Well, some people would say that being gay is a cop-out.” (Yes, a former teacher said this to me when I first came out to her. And I wasn’t quite with-it enough to rejoin, “But do YOU think so?” So it was a completely hypothetical argument.)

from Naomi Klayman

First Person Whinative—as in “How come I never get to … ?”(often used by small children and adults acting like small children)

Pluperfect Shithead—as in someone who accuses: “if you had only taken a minute to think about it you would have (done it my way)!” Purpose is to humiliate instead of empower.

3rd person future reclaimative—when someone says something intended to hurt you but ends up giving you the opportunity to be creative – much to their dismay.

2nd person silent pejorative eyeroll—as in, well, you know exactly what this means

from Layney Wells

1st person dismissive—as in “I’m sorry you feel that way…..But” Also known as 1st person false sympathy underminitive

and, growing from this, Elliott adds:

1st person self-justifying conjuctive— the use of the word “but” to reveal the hidden agenda, which is always to offer a clause of false sympathy or agreement and then to reveal the true intention of the speech, to say why you are wrong and the speaker is correct, such as “I’m sorry you were hurt BUT I told you so” or “Wow, that sucks BUT I think you kind of deserved it because…..” (note-while violence is never a justifiable solution, this use of the word “but” does make me want to do anything to the speaker that will make them stop talking)

from Jennie Ruby

passive sarcastic imperative—as in, “Yeah, that’ll get done.”

snortative absolute— as in, “Harumph.”

from Carol Burbank

3rd person holistic— when pseudo-loving abstractions are used to whole-istically define the world according to “one’s” personal needs and beliefs

1st person interlickutory— when language of command via questions and rising and falling tones is sensually applied, either by phone or in person, to express and lubricate a partner

2nd person moderational— in which a well intentioned but foolish friend tries to interrupt a fight between two equally well intentioned but foolish friends, as in “That’s not what I heard her say…” or “Are you sure that’s what she meant?”

-which always leads to 1st person explosive—“What makes you think you understand ANYTHING!?”

-which invokes multiple potential responses, ranging from 1st person past invocative accusatory to 1st person whinative (usually on both sides) and inevitably 1st person dismissive, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and 1st person escapative (“I gotta go!”)

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consider what must be happening when we set out to produce a poem

There are no more two distinct brain sides than there are two distinct genders. Why would that surprise anyone who’s ever created anything?

from “A Moment’s Thought” by Ellen Bryant Voigt in her excellent collection The Flexible Lyric

The recent bicameral (and thoroughly Nietzschean) model—right brain for intuition, emotion, art, and music; left brain for logic, rational thought, and language—is already outdated; such neat divisions were never verified except in pathology. In its place has come the concept of “modularity,” of a lifetime of data not stored on labeled shelves in the closet but processed multiply by distinct networks of differing functions: this very sentence as you read it is dismantled by your brain into its component parts—one set of ganglions taking care of the nouns, another the verbs; another flashing up your own shelf, in your own closet at home, from the image depot; a separate hardwired board parsing out the syntax you may have been born to; the brain’s musicians tuning up to the lexical and syntactical repetitions I’m using; and a brand new neural pathway extending itself like algae shot with Rapid-Gro to accommodate this new word “modularity” and its baggage, “modules” and “modern” and “insularity” and “modular housing” and even, from the rhyming crew, “nodules,’ even “noodles.” Thought, it seems, is not the linear storage and retrieval system we know from computers. [So] consider what must be happening when we set out to produce a poem, a complex construct made from intuition, observation, experience, erudition, music, memory, and feeling—what Coleridge called “the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, motions, language.”

All poetry is fragment

All poetry is fragment: it is shaped by its breakages, at every turn. It is the very art of turnings, toward the white frame of the page, toward the unsung, toward the vacancy made visible, that wordlessness in which our words are couched. Its lines insistently defy their own medium by averting themselves from the space available, affording the absent its say, not only at the poem’s outset and end by at each line’s outset and end. Richard Howard’s deft maxim (“prose proceeds, verse reverses”) catches the shifts in directionality implicit in the advertencies of verse. It means to aim at (as its means are) the untoward.

A composed verse is a record of the meeting of the line and sentence, the advertent and the inadvertent: a succession of good turns done. The poem is not only a piece, like other pieces of art; it is a piece full of pieces.

Heather McHugh Broken English