November 9, 2017

I wonder whether the New Yorker's "comma queen" considered whether to put a hyphen in "Adventures in Geriatric Dogsitting."

Remember, we were just talking about the difference between "dog-lover" and "dog lover," as discussed by Mary Norris, in "Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen":
A dog-lover is one who loves dogs; the dogs are the object of his love. James Thurber was a dog-lover. A dog lover, without the hyphen, is still a dog—the Tramp, say, in Lady and the Tramp.... A bird-watcher is a watcher of birds; a bird watcher would be a bird that keeps an eye on things.... In 'star fucker,' without the hyphen, each word has equal weight: a fucker who is a star. But in 'star-fucker' the hyphen tips the weight to the first element, the object (star) of the activity embodied in the noun (fucking).
Mary Norris is the long-time copy editor at The New Yorker, which is what I'm reading when I get to this nice comic by Gabrielle Bell titled "Adventures in Geriatric Dogsitting." I assume it's about the travails of an older person taking on the task of dogsitting. But, no, it's about a youngish person who is taking care of old dogs. I'm thinking a hyphen — or something — would have put me on the right track. Adventures in Geriatric-Dog Sitting? No, that's no good. Dogsitting is a funny word, and sitting seems like the wrong word if it's not compounded with whatever's getting sat.

The problem is more profound. Unlike the examples in the "dog-lover" paragraph, the noun modified by "geriatric" is not a thing that can grow old. Dogsitting is a practice and not an animal (canine or human). It doesn't matter whether the person or the dog is elderly. The sitting is not geriatric. You've got to disaggregate the dog from the sitting to use the adjective. I'd like to recommend scrapping that title and elevating the first line of the comic to the title position: "How did I find myself the custodian of two geriatric dogs?"

But you see what they're clinging to? "Adventures in Geriatric Dogsitting." It's a play on the movie title "Adventures in Babysitting." Sometimes you have to let that sort of thing go. Why dredge up an glossily commercial 1987 movie anyway? We've got a story here of a person who doesn't want to take care of dogs, who is forced into needing to look after 2 dogs that lack control of their bowels. Adventures in dogshitting.

It's kind of a good comic. My favorite thing about it is that 5 panels after we're told the larger dog is named Kerouac, this happens:
That's also the only panel out of 14 panels where the words bulge beyond the boundary of the square outline.

To really push beyond the square boundary, read "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.
...they rushed down the street together digging everything in the early way they had which has later now become so much sadder and perceptive.. but then they danced down the street like dingledodies and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.
Yeah, 2 dots after "commonplace thing." 2, not 3. There's nothing in the Comma Queen book about the 2-dot ellipsis (though there is something about the diaeresis (the dots in naïve)).

I guess 3 dots are a normal person's pause, and Kerouac was hot to get on to his burn, burn, burn — bulging beyond the conventions of the square.

28 comments:

traditionalguy said...

...a piece de resistance for word lovers...this early in the morning.

Laslo Spatula said...

Not a fan of that cartooning style -- the dirty shading scribbles haphazardly everywhere -- but she has a knack for drawing faces that nicely express mood.

For a lot of cartoonists faces are the hard part. A lot of exposed gritted teeth to show frustration for example.

I am Laslo.

rhhardin said...

The hyphen advice is wrong in the first place.

White house and white house have to distinguish themselves by context.

Bob Boyd said...

I preferred Adventures In Geriatric Flagpole Sitting.
More excitement and suspense, less depressing introspection, but still plenty of uncontrolled bodily waste elimination going on.
Check it out!

Henry said...

Adventures in Geriatric-Dog Dogsitting would have been a nice joke of its own.

Ralph L said...

How about "old dogsitting?"

Henry said...

I love that panel. Isn't that how loving the mad ones goes? You love them and they vaguely hold you on the end of a leash.

Goddess of the Classroom said...

There is no such standard punctuation as two dots. An ellipsis is, by definition, three dots. A sentence might end with an ellipsis followed by a period to have four dots.

As for the title, how about "Zen and the Art of the Maintenace of Geriatric Dogs"?

Ann Althouse said...

"How about "old dogsitting?""

This dogsitting is getting old.

Would make more sense in the unintended meaning.

Plus, I'm pretty sure somebody thinks "geriatric" is a funny word.

rhhardin said...

Judy Tipp the "enema queen" in Gun Shy (2000) was good. Sandra Bullock as the heritage-noticing cheerful nurse playing against Liam Neeson's agony.

rhhardin said...

Two dots comes up all over because it's a sequence notation in all sorts of programming languages. 1..n

Ann Althouse said...

"There is no such standard punctuation as two dots. An ellipsis is, by definition, three dots. A sentence might end with an ellipsis followed by a period to have four dots."

Norris's book about punctuation goes into some nonstandard things. It's not a normal usage book that just says what's the correct answer. The idea of correctness is explored, and nonstandard writers are examined. There's a lot about Emily Dickinson and Charles Dickens.

"[A]lthough the poet also used the comma and the period, she “relied mainly on dashes of varying length and position, tilting up or down as well as extending horizontally.” While some of Dickinson’s poems do have a period at the end, Miller writes that she “is apt to use the period ironically, to mock the expectation of final certainty.” She is fond of the “syntactically ambiguous dash,” which “both allows the sentence to continue (if we read the dash as dash) and makes the continuation a surprise (if we read the dash as end punctuation, which it often is in Dickinson’s poetry).” What is a copy editor to do? I don’t hate ambiguity, but I can’t be trusted to punctuate it, either. The one time it fell to me to style Dickinson’s dashes, when her poetry was quoted in a book review by Judith Thurman, I blew it. The fact checker had on her desk the author’s source, which had what I took for en dashes floating unmoored between the words. I’d never seen anything like this in The New Yorker. Quivering with impatience— Patience - is the Smile’s exertion/Through the quivering - —I styled the verse in the most pedestrian way possible, marking all the dashes as one ems and closing up the space between the dash and the preceding word. The Library of America, in one of its volumes of nineteenth-century American poetry, treats the Dickinson dashes in this same flat-footed way. Today, the entire archive of Emily Dickinson is available online, but even scholars who can read the poet’s handwriting have to make decisions about how to handle the dashes. In the Franklin edition, “a spaced hyphen,” as above, “rather than an en or an em dash, has been used as appropriate to the relative weight of her dashes in most of the poems.”"

Ann Althouse said...

I'm sure I'm right to think Norris would be interested in the 2-dot ellipsis found in Kerouac.

Ann Althouse said...

The OED uses a 2-dot ellipsis all the time. I'm sure it's to save space. What is the function of the third dot? Once you understand that the convention in this book is a 2-dot ellipsis, you're fine.

It's like one of those novels that uses a single dash to designate a quote.

rhhardin said...

Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes,
Into the tomb the Great Queen dashes.

- A Babu poet on the death of Queen Victoria

link

Bad Lieutenant said...


rhhardin said...
Judy Tipp the "enema queen" in Gun Shy (2000) was good. Sandra Bullock as the heritage-noticing cheerful nurse playing against Liam Neeson's agony.
11/9/17, 7:32 AM


What shit you do watch, RH.

Henry said...

In grad school once we had a long discussion about whether Emily Dickinson meant anything by which words she capitalized. Excruciating. I'm sure some English Lit PhD somewhere has a degree for it.

Henry said...

Revision to an earlier comment:

Isn't that how loving the mad ones goes? You love them and they indifferently hold you on the leash of your love.

tim in vermont said...

That comic, laugh out loud, really. 🤣

Fernananindiananaide said...

the noun modified by "geriatric" is not a thing that can grow old.

Like geriatric medicine.

It doesn't have to get old to be "of or relating to older people".

Goddess of the Classroom said...

Perhaps it is a British vs. American convention. For example, the British use single quotation marks for the primary quote and double quotation marks for quotes-within-quotes, while the American convention is the opposite.

Two dots appear to be a typographical error of either an extra period or an insufficient ellipsis. Context, of course, would likely clarify, but the point of punctuation conventions is to make meaning clear in the first place.

richlb said...

Adventures in Babysitting features the superhero Thor. Maybe it's more topical with the release of that character's most recent Marvel explodo-fest.

Ralph L said...

I read somewhere that Jane Austen was the first to use the dash for the stream-of-consciousness strawberry-picking scene in Emma.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Very good. If someone used the title "Adventures in Geriatric Medicine," there would be no confusion--no one would think this means elderly doctors looking after patients of all ages. In common speech there is no such thing as "Geriatric Sitting" or "Senior Sitting"--no parallel to babysitting. Would "Geriatric Canine Care" suggest something that only vets would do? Does even "Geriatric Dog Care" sound a bit too technical for mere dog-sitting?

Bad Lieutenant said...

Henry said...
Revision to an earlier comment:

Isn't that how loving the mad ones goes? You love them and they indifferently hold you on the leash of your love.

11/9/17, 7:52 AM

And yet, what can you do, other than to love less?

"For well you know that it's a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world
A little colder"

"We are all just prisoners here, of our own device"

Have many people here had the experience of cutting off their parents, or a parent?

Ann Althouse said...

Per the OED, the adjective "geriatric" first meant: "Of or pertaining to geriatrics; designed for use by old people."

The second meaning is the jocose and colloquial one:

"In weakened use, esp. contemptuously: old or senile. colloq."

"Geriatric medicine" is that first definition. I think I may have experienced the word that way at first and it would cause me to think of it as dogsitting as an activity appropriate for old people.

I'm trying to think of how to get the oldness onto the dogs. That would be the second sense: the contemptuous word for old. It's at that point where the "more profound" problem arises, because the sitting isn't what's old. The dogs are old. That's where it seems that you need to do something like "geriatric-dog sitting."

Ralph L said...

For trained dogs, the "sitting of old dogs" can be done with one command and maybe a treat.
Minding antique canines.
Temporarily caring for old dogs.
Watchdogging old dogs implies you're guarding against external treats while the dogs go wild.
In the Naval services, the dogwatch is between 4 pm and 8 pm, so that limits your dogsitting clientele and revenues, as with the un-gay wedding cake businesses.

Earnest Prole said...

The Puritanical zeal of American copyediting creates far more problems than it solves. It sacrifices to the hobgoblin god of consistency many perfectly sound choices that expert writers of English make, such as splitting infinitives, ending sentences with a preposition, and using which in place of that.