The Non-Elastic Clause

Non Elastic Clause

Here’s how it works:
We are, at birth, issued heart sections to fill with emotions.
Most sections are fairly elastic—the Puppy Love area, for example.
At age 13 it expands so far that it actually moves beyond the heart wall and into areas such as the voice box, (rendering it speechless when speaking to the Object of Affection), and the stomach, (startling dormant butterflies into violent action at the sight of the same Object of Affection).

But the Object of Affection eventually loses his/her luster and the Puppy Love section shrinks down to almost nothing till inflated by True Love.
The same is true of the ‘Need for Speed’ area predominant in teen boys-—it oozes past the heart and squeezes shut Common Sense and Self-Preservation areas of the brain, but by daddyhood has assumed manageable proportions.

Unfortunately the elastic clause isn’t binding on the Emotions for Parents Area (EPA).
A certain amount of heart space is delegated and we’re required to keep it filled at all times.
It has a non-elastic clause.
When we were infants, every nook and cranny of the Emotions for Parent Area is filled with Need. A bit older and we don’t Need parents for minute-to-minute survival, so some Need is replaced with Love.
Love ebbs and flows as Resentment, Desire for Approval, and Utter Humiliation jockey for position in the space allotted.
But the EPA retains its original volume requirements.

For many sad reasons, Hate, Blame, or Regret sometimes wriggle in. These make it difficult for Love to survive in the Emotions for Parents Area. (A sobering note: Whatever fills this area will  seep into and affect  Friend Love, True Love, Offspring Love, etc.)

In the normal course of events, by adulthood most of us find our EPA filled almost completely with Love, Respect and Concern, and as our parents age, Compassion and Anxiety find space.
What happens to those of us who had to say goodbye to parents? We think “If only I could have had them for a few more years, I’d be able to handle the loss better.”

Not true. The Emotions for Parents Area of your heart has a non-elastic clause, remember?
Parents could live to be 100 and there would be exactly the same amount of emotion to be lavished on them.
Those who have lost parents have a big heart part filled at first with Ache.
Then Affectionate Memories begin to replace some (but never all) of Ache, allowing room for Gratitude and Honor, all of which are highlighted by Love.
And the non-elastic clause means you will carry those emotions in full measure all of your days.

Simple Simon’s Rows



My dear Garden of Grammar. I’ve neglected it since we examined  Apples to Apple’s.  I’m back now, and yanked out the ain’t weeds, cuz crabgrass and sprayed for I seen no-see-ums. It’s finally ready for us to continue our visit.

Moving to Plot Two, we first check on the to seedlings. If they have sprouted an extra o they no longer mean to-as-in-toward but too-as-in-also. Keep your two, to and too seeds separate. If they give you grief, remember what we tell fledgling gardeners—the too meaning also or in addition to has an ADDITIONAL o.

Not so serious as apostrophe aphids and a missing/spare o, but still pesky, the roaming n bears watching. It leeches onto the others skipping behind whole. “A whole nother problem?” Not if you are on the alert. Grab “n” and snip it right off the other.

Let’s stop a moment and admire the neat, straight rows of simple sentences. You know the ones. Tidy, easy to grow, these independent little basic clauses seldom give any headaches.

“This garden is lovely.”
“Aren’t action verbs fun?’
“Your prepositions are looking quite vigorous.”
Orderly rows of sentences with no meandering, they express just one idea and do it without any help. Not a comma, colon, semicolon or em-dash in sight.

Simple sentences are easy to grow and till and understand, but sometimes we long for complexity. That is why grammar gardens always include a trellis for sentence hybrids.

Come back sometime soon to admire our  Sentencus Compound-Complex

Apples to Apple’s

apples Collage

Welcome back to our In the Garden of Grammar Tour. Our first stop is the implement shed, where we PREFIX our implements. (We tillers of syntax soil will enjoy our little pun.) We polish our apostrophe tweezers, the ‘whole nother’ snips, the simple sentence edger, and our clause-grafter. We make certain the sprinkling can is filled with punctuation, and a high quality Oxford comma cultivator is ready. willing, and able. We load them all into the narrative wheelbarrow, along with loppers, fertilizer, pruner, shears and tendril adjusters. Because we value a tidy garden, we top it with a basket for pests and deadheads.

Once in the garden, we check immediately for apostrophe aphids. We welcome them in the bed of contractions, where we let them nibble away at the extra letters we want deleted. Without these tiny curved critters in our possessive noun plot, we couldn’t have a gardener’s hat, a flower’s beauty, a seed’s hull.  When they light on plural nouns, however, they cause problems.

There is one now. Apple’s for sale? Apple’s, an aphid’s presence implies, have something they can sell. True, apples possess peels, but the most capitalistic, free-market apple can’t sell its peel. Go ahead. Squish the little apostrophe aphid. Toss it in your deadhead basket and once again we have a bunch of apples at a (hopefully) good price.

As soon as the plural nouns are clear, you may see another swarm of apostrophe aphids chewing in the possessive pronoun bed. One little apostrophe can do incalculable damage to a possessive pronoun, nibbling its leaves into useless it is leaves. Once again, but not for the last time, you’ll need to pull the persistent pests who are turning your fragile little singular possessive into you’re fragile little singular possessive. Grasp the apostrophe firmly in your tweezers because you are NOT a fragile little singular possessive. YOU ARE A GRAMMAR GARDENER.

A word of caution as your stroll between the beds and among the flowers:
Our Latin roots turn up all over the place. This just shows we are a high class(ical) garden.
Many greenhorns stumble over i.e. from the Latin id est. They often assume they just stubbed a toe on e.g. (exempli gratia).
In less high-brow gardens id est goes by the name “that is” while e.g. will be written “for example.” Here is a useful tool from one word cultivator to another. (Unfortunately it uses muddied pronunciation, but we must be pragmatists and use implements that work.) Since e.g. means for example, just think of it as short for eggsample and you should be fine.

Join me next time as we visit SIMPLE SIMON’S ROWS

In the Garden of Grammar

young grammar gardener

Where would we be without words? They are inseparable from the rest of created things— everything that came into being simply because He Said. God used His creative words, words that were fruitful and multiplied, and then kindly gave them to us. All we had to do with words was tend them, subdue them, have dominion over them and use them wisely. Like everything else, we blew it, and now we are having one doozy of a job getting them under control.

Words, no longer exclusively lovely, orderly and life-giving expressions, have run rampant. Some are barbed, some false, some twisted and too many are poisonous. Grammar gardeners have no illusions about mastering all these wild words. Our task is a singular one. We keep words and everything they generate in functional order.

Examine a word carefully and you will see it is composed of small organisms called letters. A bunch of words in a certain order along a stem of almost any length is called a sentence. Wherever these organisms thrive and grow as they were meant to, you will find cultivators of syntax, spelling and phraseology.

Welcome to the Garden of Grammar, where a weed is never a we’d and we don’t use fewer manure because less will do. Be warned. The labors are ceaseless and under-appreciated. The personal satisfaction, however, is enormous. If you aspire to grammar gardening greatness, if you find yourself longing for additive-free words, pure punctuation, and irony-balanced soil, pull on your gardening gloves. We are heading to the plots of punctuation, paragraphs, parlance and linguistics, where tense isn’t a feeling, subject and verb always agree, and you can use your active voice.

Next in our garden tour: Apples to Apple’s

Not flagging yet


The English language needs a good budget, and a bit of self-discipline.
One minute it throws around words with extravagant abandon. Think a moment. How many words do we have for a person’s hindquarters? (Don’t think too hard, please.)
Really, we only need one. “Hindquarters.”
“Please sit on your hindquarters.”
“Those slacks are a bit tight across your hindquarters.”
The only possible improvement to “My Fair Lady” would be Eliza Doolittle screeching, “Come on Dover! Move yer bloomin’ hindquarters!”

Next thing we know,  English is going all Dave Ramsey on us. In a too-little too-late effort to conserve words, it tries to use the same one over and over.
Like flag.
English initially called it a noun and decreed it would apply to a banner or a pennant.
But even after years as a waving noun,  flag had plenty of good wear in it. So the powers holding the language pursestrings decided, “Hey. Instead of investing in a new word,  let’s use flag as a verb, too!”
A very active verb. It can indicate, tag or label something we want to save.
Don’t want to lose an email in the avalanche? Flag it. Notice how I flagged the word “flag” with bold font in this post?

Flag proved so efficient as a marker that it was stretched and repurposed as a warning. The IRS (who know how to wring value out of anything) gleefully grabbed it to flag folks just hoping to fly under the radar for another year.

Still in the penny-pincher mode, word-thrifts thought of another way to get more mileage out of flag.
Stuck with a flat tire on the side of the road and want to signal a passing motorist to stop? Need to hail a cab in New York City? Here I am, says the weary flag. Use me.

Even the most frugal of word hoarders know when a word is getting threadbare. Flag was almost ready for the rag pile, so they agreed its final use would be undemanding.
Flag can be used to describe someone running out of steam, out of energy, fading fast.
So appropriate.
Flagging, tagging, lagging, flag has served us well.

Perhaps its greatest moment comes when bragging on what it stands for. Here in the United States our Flag stands for tradition and innovation, great courage and greater kindness, a history checkered with triumph and tragedy, pride and shame.

Our flag reminds us that we’re in this together, and we better figure out how to make it work. It reminds us that we’ve always had fractures and divisiveness. We always will.
You’re in this together, our flag tells us. Figure it out.

When the word gods start squandering words left and right again (they come up with dozens to describe “under the influence” when one will do—Idiot) they may take away some of flag’s other functions.
It won’t let one go without a fight.
Knowing we need something to rally around, something to remind us that we’re puny parts of an amazing whole,
Flag doesn’t blanch and turn pale. We don’t wave a white flag. We wave one bursting with robust color.

Our flag is still there. When we stomp off our separate ways, petty grudges or potent factions dividing us, it keeps dragging us back. We’re in this together. We best figure it out.


My in-laws used to winter out west. Their goal was to get from Point A (eastern Wisconsin) to Point B (southern Arizona) at breakneck speed with not a wasted moment at sub-points between.

When my family vacationed, Dad chose every road less traveled, and stopped to read every historical marker. We were fortunate to get out of the county.

Some authors write like my in-laws travel.


They gallop the plot along, leaping from high point to high point, pounding deep-seated emotions and backstories into dust. They might squeeze in a pit stop at a motivation way-station or grab a snack of love interest, but these are primarily fuel to hurl on toward the next adrenaline rush till eventually—BOOM! The story slams directly into the climax. Ian Fleming, Zane Gray, Clive Cussler and the like have written books brimming with action. If you’ve read The Three Musketeers, Hondo or The Bourne Identity, you know the type. Want to impress your friends? Refer to these as ‘plot-driven’ books.

Then there are the novels in which the storyline is so incidental, the author sometimes loses track of it all together. Like my father who found much of interest right where he stood, these writers grab a spade and dig deeply into their characters’ psyches. No recess of a protagonist’s or antagonist’s brain is safe.


No emotion is taken for granted, no sidelong glance is without meaning and context, no childhood event has less than earth-shattering ramifications. For obvious reasons these novels are known as ‘character driven.’ The Great Gatsby, The Help, The Catcher in the Rye, even many of Shakespeare’s plays—you know WHO these stories are about more than WHAT happens.

Between the galloper and the digger we have a range of writers who craft various combinations of dashes, pauses, probes and stops. Jane Austen, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien all wrote memorable scenes. But their characters are three-dimensional complexities able to tuck the plot in their fully-formed arms and nourish it to intriguing fruition. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Once and Future King, Fahrenheit 451, the Harry Potter series, all have a strong storyline accompanied by strong personalities.

These mid-range novels are my favorite. It is the writers at the far ends of the spectrum who baffle and bother. Constant cliff-hangers with routinely strong-jawed heroes and/or stunning size-nothing heroines with the strength of ten Grinches plus two—after a few hundred brushes with death I find myself hoping that the next inescapable predicament will truly be inescapable.

Or take those authors (please) who dig so deeply into the hearts and minds and histories of their characters that they scrape bedrock but burrow further. After disgorging countless words, pages and chapters of secret emotions, hidden happenings, fruitless longings and repressed scars, the writer can’t persuade these characters to do anything. They just sit in the rubble of their exposed innards hoping the author will type ‘The End.’

It’s a wide world out there. We can read books that buckle us in and careen across mountain peaks and seven seas in 300 pages or less. The world is also deep, and some authors require that we get down on our haunches and appreciate the riches below the surface. A truly skilled and passionate writer can make folks like my father appreciate whirlwind tours, or help people like my in-laws linger at a previously-overlooked pitstop.
Bless these authors. They are in the business of bringing us places we never would have visited but for them.