The SpecGram Inquisition—Sheri Wells-Jensen—with Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie SpecGram Vol CLXX, No 4 Contents Speech is an Elaborate Cover for Widespread Telepathy—Will Styler

It Was a Dark and Stormy Noun...
1985 Edition

The SpecGram Puzzle Elves™

Some of our more, ahem, mature readers may remember that back in the mid-80’s Speculative Grammarian ran an annual Bulwer-Lytton-style contest, asking readers to submit the worst possible opening sentence for a linguistically-themed book. In fact, some of those same readers may have submitted entries, and may still be wondering whether or not they won.

Sorry about that. The contest entries were in fact judged by the editorial board, but a dispute between Pulju (a Givónian functionalist) and Slater (a Lasnikian generativist) turned uncivil and the winners were never announced. In the meantime, we have lost our records as to who submitted them. So no prizes this time! But we do remember which category each was submitted for.

Less than three full decades late, we are proud to present the winners from 1985!

1st Place—Bulwer-Lyttonian Linguistics

It was a dark and stormy noun; its modifiers cascaded in torrents down from the NP node (for it is in the tree diagram that our scene lies), battering the Head mercilessly with recursion, and fiercely agitating the pitiable class who struggled to account for it with Phrase Structure Rules on Professor Lakoff’s final exam.

1st Place—Syntax

Sir John Fortescue MP had once hoped to make his mark as his party’s environmental spokesman; but his policies lacked inspiration, and he was soon relegated, bitter and resentful, to the back benches, where his colourless green ideas sleep furiously.

1st Place—Jurisprudential Linguistics

Judge Otto Segman brushed the academic’s extensive CV aside, and pacing along the many tiers of the ornate galleries of the Royal Court, stressed to the accused that he should not take that tone when addressing the bench.

2nd Place—Jurisprudential Linguistics

It wasn’t until he had gone 14 hours without an answer that Dr. Flarman realised that he was trying to elicit linguistic data from a wooden bench and not a judge.

1st Place—Linguistic Theory Bashing

Jared the Literary linguist woke up with a hangover worse than that time he accidentally wandered into a Statistical Neurolinguistics conference.

2nd Place—Linguistic Theory Bashing

The flickering of white light tubes only adding to the agonizing headache Noam slowly awoke to, “Goddamit, what’s happened?” was the first thing whichin an untypically colloquial manner for his otherwise superior intellectoccupied his mind, when really he should have tried to adjust his blurry vision to identify where exactly he was; that he was just giving a lecture that should do away with transformational grammar when he felt an almighty knock on his head was all he remembered among the distracting noise of an arrhythmically humming air-con and the saliva drenched gag in his mouth which contrasted starkly with the dry burning sensation he felt on the wrists that were tightly bound around a concrete pillar along his back, until two tall dark suits (whom he was sure he had seen a few days earlier, as they looked considerably out-of-place among the audience of his recent talk in American hegemony and how we kept Cuba in an oppressive stranglehold much worse than anything communism could ever produce of itself) stepped into the room, the bronze shimmer of the badges to the left of their respective hips clearly indicating that this situation did not come about by mistake but was much rather a piece of rare empirical evidence to show that they were indeed “oppressive bastards” as his followers liked to call themdefinitely not the type of government & binding he himself had in mind though...

3rd Place—Linguistic Theory Bashing

To prepare for the first day of my teaching career, I went to get a cup of coffee, but alas!, my right hand slammed against the doorjamb, breaking the middle finger; the cast rendering me incapable of communicating in my wonted fashion, or rather incapable of aught otherwise, I was at least given the first steps to my dissertation topic: manifestations of Tourette syndrome in sign language.

1st Place—Horror

Doggedly pursuing implosive bilabial stops through turgid pools of back vowels was child’s play by this stage of her career, and detecting the slightest hint of fossilized nasalization took hardly a thought at all, but Full Professor Fernione Esquint, known affectionately as “Fullpy the Squint” in the department, was going to cook her as-yet-unwritten festschrift and feed it to the accreditation team before she admitted just how much of her work Praat was doing for her... and just how much it was demanding in return.

1st Place—Applied Language Names

While Basquing in the glory of his superb Gaelic bread made out of a French stick, Rudolph the Chef realised he was Hungarian to read more linguistics books like the one he Finnish-ed last year.

1st Place—Tall Tales

Wild Barry “Cran” Barrie was the wildest, craziest, rootin’est, tootin’est infixin’est unbound morpheme this side of the Pecos River, and his ongoing fondness for cheap booze, fast women, and loose sentences was about to land him in a world of hurt with his wife, the pretty and periodically petty Polly Prescriptivist, a schoolmarm and the editor-in-chief of the Prescriptivist Daily newspaper, of which ole Cran was admittedly not a subscriber.

1st Place—Academic Historical Fiction

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pipa rather mundane reflection, but one I was later to put to good use, stretching it out on the Procrustean bed of academic rhetoric to the tune of several hundred pages, fourteen articles, and an endowed chairship.

1st Place—World English

for sell: Inglish grummer book: has not used it.

More to come...

The SpecGram InquisitionSheri Wells-Jensenwith Inquisitor Generalis Jonathan Downie
Speech is an Elaborate Cover for Widespread TelepathyWill Styler
SpecGram Vol CLXX, No 4 Contents