Sometimes verbs "don't get no respect," especially when it comes to headlines. These days, writes Bay Area author and critic Constance Hale, verbs are ousted from headlines in favor of search-optimized nouns, but that can lead to some interpretive problems. Take the story of spud farmers wanting to catch the ear of a hamburger giant. The Associated Press headline: "McDonald's Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers."
Hale grew up speaking "proper" English at home in Oahu but used Hawaiian creole with friends at school. Maybe that stoked her passion for language; her obsession with verbs is on display in "Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing" ($16.95 in paperback from W.W. Norton; also in Amazon Kindle format).
The book is a salted-peanut delight for language lovers, dipping "into the highbrow and the lowbrow, the sacred and the profane, the eloquent and the cheesy. We'll unpack one aspect of verbs at a time, keeping things simple. We won't forget the fun."
Each chapter has four sections; the Vex part tackles language confusion and history (sometimes it's a history of confusion); Hex is there to "shatter myths and debunk shibboleths, and set you free to write with new confidence and zest." Speaking of zest, the Smash sections examine a plethora of bad examples (I scoured the index for my name--not there! Whew! I'm safe until the next edition). And Smooch? This section is for "writing that is so good you'll want to kiss its creator. These passages feature juicy words, sentences that rock, and subjects that startle." (You can find more at sinandsyntax.com.)
Chapters contain little think-piece asides and carry the reader from verb dynamics and tenses to moods, participles and "odd uses." Meaty appendices consider Chomsky, dictionaries, irregular verbs, and more.
Log on is a phrasal verb and "when we're done, we log off." We don't logon, though we may be logging on. And once you've logged on, you may read some smoochable words from Toni Morrison: "Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; ... ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down their stalks."
Lyon Books in downtown Chico is hosting a presentation and signing with Constance Hale tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.