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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Bly’s 8 Stages of Translation: Stage 5 the ear turned inward

from Robert Bly’s Eight Stages of Translation

      In what I’ll call the fifth stage we need the ear again–not the ear turned outward toward human speech but the ear turned inward toward the complicated feelings the poem is carrying. Each poem has a mood. Harry Martinson remarked that to him a poem is a mood. A poem did not come to him out of an idea, but a poem marked a moment when he was able to catch a mood.

      To succeed at this stage I think it is very important that the translator should have written poetry himself [sic]. I mean that he or she needs the experience of writing from mood in order to judge accurately what the mood of a stranger’s poem in. We need accurate judgment on mood now because in finding spoken phrases to replace the written we may have thrown the tone off. We may have the wrong “tone of voice” in the new phrases. The spoken language has dozens of tones available; sometimes in American, hundreds. […] Many translators stop before this stage; they translate a poem into spoken American and then quit. […] The younger we are, the easier it is to make mistakes in tone.

[…] All language has two levels at least: an upper and a lower. We recognize the “upper” in Shakespeare’s sonnets; language high-flown, ethical, elaborated, capable of concept, witty, dignified, noble in tone.

      We might speculate that in the American language now only the “lower” level is alive. It flows along on earth; it is a physical language that everyone contributes to, warm, intense, with short words, well connected to the senses, musical, capable of feeling. This sensual language is the only one we have; William Carlos Willams used this language by principle when he wrote, and Brecht used the lower level by choice in his German poems. In America the “noble” stream died out around 1900, against the will of Henry James, and since that time, as Williams declared, the writer has had no choice.

      We notice that this problem of “noble language” causes a lot of trouble to translators in their efforts to translate Rilke into English. Rilke translations have frequently been nobly dead. The translator, in the effort to rise to the upper or resonating level he senses in Rilke, abandons our living language and resorts to old cloudlike phrases that are now only scenery. He tries, from the best intentions, to to retrieve and revive dusty clauses and high-flown diction and stuff them into the poem, with the result that the living language dies, both languages die, and Rilke seems ridiculous.

       Summing up, then, in this stage we move to modify the errors that may have come in with the emphasis on the spoken. Most of all we open ourselves for the first time to the mood of the poem; we try to be precise about what its mood is, distinguishing it from the mood of nearby poems. We try to capture the poem’s balance of high and low, dark and light, seriousness and light-heartedness.