Notes from the Harbor: Syntax and Semantics.


Regrettably a long weekend has come and gone and, if you’re anything like me, the anticipation for all the wonderful “time off” in order to “take care of things” culminated in an uneventful weekend full of hair washing, reading, back-to-back viewings of Coming to America on Comedy Central, and the Pam Greer Blaxploitation marathon on TVOne—a channel I’ve really grown to love.

I digress. As you know, come June 15th, we’ll be talking about Colson Whitehead’s latest: Sag Harbor.

Here’s a teaser from the very funny, sometimes contrived, but so damn erudite and clever narrator (Benji) on the grammatical nature of boyhood insults:

One smashed a colorful and evocative noun or proper noun into a pejorative, gluing them together with an -in’ verb…”Lookin’ ” was a common -in’ verb…”Wearin’ ” made the rounds as well.

You could also preface things with a throat-clearing “You fuckin’,” as in “You fuckin’ Cha-Ka from Land of the Lost-lookin’ motherfucker…”

“You fuckin'” acted as a rhetorical pause, allowing the speaker a few extra seconds to pluck some splendid modifier out of the invective ether, end giving the listener a chance to gird himself for the top-notch put-down/ splendid imagery to follow.

You may have noticed that the -in’ verbs were generally visual. The heart of the critique concerned what you were putting out into the world, the vibes you gave off. Which is what made them so devastating when executed well–this ordnance detonated in that area between you and the mirror, between you and what you thought everyone else was seeing. (pg. 41-42)

Happy Reading.