Person, Place, Thing, or Something

Strange newspaper headline

How many nouns in that sentence?

I was sitting this past week in a local redneckery, the sort of joint where the woman serving at the bar could be missing a tooth in back, where motorcycle posters have been on the wall so long the colors have faded, and where they have anything you want to drink as long as it’s Budweiser, Bud Lite, or whatever that other one is.

So I sat there, contemplating the degeneration of the brewing art, when the door opened and a noun walked in. It sauntered up to me and said, “Aren’t you the guy who writes about words sometimes?”

“Maybe,” I said and took a drink. “Depends on the word.”

“Not that you’re good at it,” the noun said, and then frowned. “Like last week. Sheesh, all that pronoun nonsense.”

“That’s my business,” I said. “Sometimes I kind of run out of topics.”

“Oh, please,” the noun said and held a hand up to its heart. “With all the nouns there are in the world. Turn your brain up to 11.”

“You know,” I said. “I can tell from your capitalization that you’re a proper noun, so a cheap joint like this isn’t really your kind of place. It’s not real proper in here. Look at the bartender.”

The noun sighed and instead of leaving took a seat at the bar. “Well, sometimes I’m proper, sometimes I’m not.”

“You have to be either a proper noun or a common noun,” I said. “You can’t be both.”

It laughed, but it was a kind of unpleasant smirky laugh that I didn’t like. “That’s why you’re so bad at this,” it said, “and why nobody reads your blog. You don’t know anything.”

This obnoxious noun was trying to insult me, and I was considering whether to open a can of whoop-ass or another can of beer, when a large group of nouns walked in the door and headed toward us. I decided to remain circumspect under the circumstances.

The noun sitting beside me said, “I’m John. Sometimes I’m a person’s name and a proper noun, and sometimes I’m a prostitute’s customer, and then I’m a common noun.  Let me introduce these guys. This is Zamboni, Diesel, Styrofoam, Sandwich, Kleenex, and Watt.” They all took seats at the bar and ordered beers.

“Every one of ’em was a proper noun, a person’s name, like Rudolph Diesel, or a brand name, but now they’re all common nouns.”

“I don’t think Zamboni is all that common,” I said. “I don’t even know—”

One of the nouns at the bar moaned and said, “We could end up as pronouns. Common as dirt, hardly mean anything to anybody.”

“Oh, my God,” another one said. “I’d rather be a verb.”

Jesus!” said Zamboni. “We’ll never be that bad. What a flighty bunch they are.”

“Yeah,” said Styrofoam. “Verbs! They’re always like ‘Oh, look at me, look what I’m doing. Look how active I am.’ They wear me out.”

“At least we have some substance,” said John. He turned to me. “So you should write about us.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll think about it.”

“Yeah, yeah, think about it.” He turned back to the bar and waved at the bartender. “And while you’re at it,” he said, “maybe buy a grammar book so you’ll have a clue what you’re talking about.”

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