I doubt my household is "average." Being a writer, I often discuss topics that most would find out of the ordinary (and some downright frightening). "How long does it take to dissolve a body in hydrochloric acid?"
The other night a friend of mine came over for dinner, and my wife and I were debating the realistic population density of a primitive society in a 100 square mile area. We, of course, dragged him into it. Dinner at our house comes with a fair amount of implied nonsense.
Today, my wife and I debated a stylistic aspect of writing. I knew I was right, but I didn't have a reference to point to (and yes I realize that I just ended a sentence with a preposition, except I didn't because of this addition). Anyway, I've been reading a book and recommended it to Robin, while reading she asked about the following sentence and whether it was grammatically correct.
She licked her lips, reached for her purse, foraged in it.
"Yes, I replied," that's perfectly legitimate. Robin wasn't convinced. I'm sure we had this discussion before...maybe several years ago, but we had both remembered the outcome differently. I'm blogging on it now, so that when the issue comes up three or four years from now, I can point to this post ;-)
Okay, just a bit more background and then we'll get into asyndeton. Whenever we discuss rules of grammar it usually comes down to one of two things. The item under question is either: (a) correct or (b) allowable under the "authors can bend and break whatever rules they want" get out of jail free card. I prefer (a) because that makes it more likely she'll not edit it on those occasions when I do such things. So, I asked her to find the precedence.
For most of the morning, Robin searched and finally came up with what such a construction is called...and you guessed it, it's asyndenton. I suspect this is a little-known rule of grammar, and I'm recording it now so next time we have this "debate" I'll know right where to look for it.
So what is it? Here's the definition from the website, Literary Devices:
"Asyndeton refers to a practice in literature whereby the author purposely leaves out conjunctions in the sentence, while maintaining the grammatical accuracy of the phrase. Asyndeton as a literary tool [that] helps in shortening up the implied meaning of the entire phrase and presenting it in a succinct form. This compact version helps in creating an immediate impact whereby the reader is instantly attuned to what the writer is trying to convey. Use of this literary device helps in creating a strong impact and such sentences have greater recall worth since the idea is presented in a nutshell."
If we delve a bit deeper, we find there are three general reasons for using asyndeton (according to grammar and education portion of about.com).
- "When [asyndeton] is used in a series of words, phrases, or clauses, it suggests the series is somehow incomplete, that there is more the writer could have included."
- "Asyndeton can also create ironic juxtapositions that invite readers into collaborative relationships with writers: because there are no explicit connections between phrases and clauses, readers must supply them to reconstruct the writer's intent."
- "Asyndeton can also quicken the pace of prose, especially when it is used between clauses and sentences."
So, there you have it. Perhaps you just learned a new word today, as well. If you're coming over this weekend for the Super Bowl party, I'll expect you to be able to recite its meaning or no nachos for you!