Remedial English Meets Stand-Up Comedy

  Originally a Presentation at a Downtown Tyler Arts Event: Precursor to Tyler Spoken Word

I decided to go through my Developmental English textbook and look for funny model sentences. Textbook engagement is one of the major concerns in that industry. Most of these model sentences are from the grammar chapter. I’ll lead into them by mentioning a category first. Well after this talk, I realized that the textbook engagement aspect of amusing model sentences would add to my sustainability in composition stance.

Three sentences are accounts of rare physical humor in the classroom. Very early in the semester, I’d say, “The teacher threw an eraser over the students’ heads,” while I was explaining the prepositions as usually about space and often beginning with the letters, “a, b, o, u, or t.” Yes, I really threw an eraser. Now let’s talk about fragments. “I type,” is a very short sentence: subject, verb, and complete thought. However, “Drives to the basket after a fake in the opposite direction,” is a very long fragment that’s missing a subject. Of course, I demonstrated my move for the class. How about a very forceful imperative sentence? “Watch out for that pit bull hiding behind the car on the front porch.” That led to a successful titanium hip replacement after slipping on wet grass but no pit bull bite, as the beast was on a chain.

I’ve been known to make health-related and pet-love jokes. “Finally, (comma) I can walk up the stairs without wheezing,” illustrates a comma after an introductory word. I have had two phases of hording cats. Once I was able to make a pro-cat remark and salute Whitney Houston: “He has found the greatest joy of all—(dash) to have a pack of red cats.” That dash prevented an added-detail fragment. Here’s an actual happy cat family event, “I gave my male cat, Dat, a compliment (not complement) for letting the three female cats eat first (Smoky, Ms. Kwame, and Lupita). That sentence was from a Commonly Confused Word chapter section.

I have proposed an all-new acronym for the coordinating conjunctions because FANBOYS paints a very disturbing picture in my mind that involves a monarch and far from role model activity on the part of youth. So I’m offering FABSONY as a new way to remember the coordinating conjunctions–for, and, but, so, or, nor, and yet—while saluting a fine Japanese radio/TV company and its founder, Akio Morita. By the way, I read his biography, Made in Japan, back in the Nineties.

It can be fun to acknowledge the generation gap. “I can’t understand why so many young people wear loose jeans (two “o’s” not one), and why bell-bottoms and flares haven’t made a comeback.” ((More from the Commonly Confused word chapter section). On another note, make a joke about teachers usually being more bookish than students, “Searching through the websites, the instructor tried to find something exciting or at least tolerable for his students.” That shows the use of a comma after an introductory phrase.

Hinting at strictness when it comes to passing or not is prudent, whether through teacher talk or the teacher’s book. Some students (and maybe some administrators) think a jolly teacher might pass anyone. One of my early statements in the semester was “Just because I may laugh with y’all and try to be funny doesn’t mean I won’t do the same thing next semester when I see you if you do bad on tests and don’t turn in essays or do poorly on them. The instructors for the higher level classes are next door to me, so I don’t want to risk hearing them complain about a backwards student.” Awareness of mischief is good too. In an irregular verb quiz section of a multiple-choice quarterly exam, I once gloated,”Somebody stole the answer key from my office, so I changed the order of the answers–ha, ha!” True or False? True on both counts!

Let students know what your pet peeve is in grammar since that could be extra memorable. I can’t stand apostrophe splices! Don’t use an apostrophe with a singular noun that doesn’t show possession. Years later, I saw a funny picture on a Facebook grammar site that had the caption, “Every time you use an apostrophe + “s” to make a noun plural, a puppy dies.” I get funny with pictures too for a Flickr photo of a Jolly Roger flag is next to statement, “Look at the lovely lady’s.” Look at what of hers? Wait, you want me to look at a photo of three ladies. Don’t use an apostrophe with a third-person singular verb; that’s even worse. A Flickr photo of unique sign shows rotating saws with the caption, “Don’t feed body parts into adjacent counter-rotating rollers,” goes next to that model sentence. You can only get that zany once per chapter or maybe once per book, so pick your pet peeve wisely. A comma to prevent confusion can be very important, “Let’s eat, Helen.” Without a comma in that sentence, the author could be suggesting cannibalism!

Let’s talk about dealing with African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) because it’s a Developmental English/Writing textbook. Ebonics is not a proper term because it implies a completely separate language. Irregular verbs and subject-verb agreement seem to be the most likely place for this slang or dialect. Check out these false statements on True-False test on irregular verbs. “I’m gone to the house. She being silly again. This exam is so throwed, I’m glad to be taking it.” Now don’t get the wrong idea. In a subject-verb agreement quiz I confessed, “Internet sites, and not Mom, reveal that Black Irish were mixed: African-American and White, thereby explaining Grandmother Charlcye Elrod’s resemblance to actress, Josephine Baker.”

Do you have a controversial hero, or do you still enjoy some of his or her old writings? What if you have a redneck teacher who could give you a lower grade just because (s) he got mad? There’s a way you can quote somebody and not give their name. Preface or conclude the quote with a phrase like, “A prominent thinker once said, ‘Let’s look at a great quote from the Keynote Address at the 2001 Hip Hop Summit in New York City, “Every time you use your rap song against another rapper and the magazines publish your words, the people you love then turn on the people you have spoken against. (With) leadership comes responsibility. You did not ask for it. It is imposed on you, but now you have to accept responsibility that you have never accepted.'” That was from the Keynote Address at the 2001 Hip Hop Summit in New York City. Then I have a picture of Russell Simmons to go with that quote. He was the organizer, and everybody (used to) like him (2018 note). So I was just able to get away with quoting Minister Louis Farrakhan and not get in severe trouble (big laugh ensues).

Here’s a goodie from early in the Persuasive chapter, “If you give your Valentine a Tupperware full of chocolate mints chiefly because you like to have containers for leftovers, then your persuasive strategy in love would be….(Predicting Results).” It’s good to quote a joke from somewhere else. In a chapter section on developing your vocabulary, I quoted Frank Burns (played by Larry Linville) from M*A*S*H when he said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” “Nice” makes the short list as one of the most overused words.

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers is a rare advanced grammar chapter section that is funny from start to finish. Much of the section shows how a sentence’s meaning can be totally changed through placement of the words: “almost, only, just, nearly, and even.” To end, I’ve actually provided a risqué, but cautionary, model declarative sentence. Here’s a way to use a pair of dashes, “She had all the qualities a gentleman could want—a steady job, social adeptness, and a lack of meanness—but a far different type of female enamored him.” Bad!

Thank you very much. You’ve been a receptive audience. Feel free to read and laugh.