November 13, 2006

Punctuational linguificatory hyperbolicity

Charles Belov points out to me a punctuational linguification that does fall under the heading of hyperbole.It's in a piece of writing about dance by Eva Yaa Asantewaa:

Some enormously gifted people contributed to Francesca Harper's Modo Fusion Lounge showcase up at Makor/Steinhardt Centers intimate café space on West 67th Street. For starters, there was the stunning Harper herself — the kind of artist and performer whose pile-up of talents quickly exhausts a keyboard's hyphen or comma keys.

Did you instantly parse that connection between talent pile-up and key exhaustion?

The idea seems to be that the comma and hyphen keys on your keyboard will get worn out when you try to write about Harper's talents. Asantewaa says Harper is "‘a conceptual pop artist,’ film director, lyricist, dancer, singer, and actor currently understudying two roles in The Color Purple", and the Modo Fusion Lounge features "music, ... dancing ..., film, poetry, humor, and a whole lot of fun." Ten commas there. My comma key survived the pounding. I suspect Asantewaa's did too, refuting her literal claim. She exaggerates. But at least this linguification is intelligible once you see that: if Ms Harper did billions of different things, (the actual array of projects can be seen at; it doesn't really run into the billions), and you tried to list them all in a multiple coordination, then at an average word length of about 6 characters (roughly the right figure for English), for every n keystrokes on letter keys you would need 6n comma keystrokes, which might cause the comma key to wear out before the letter keys. It's a fairly silly piece of over-writing (perhaps not the first in enthusiastic arts reviewing), but at least it does make perfect sense as an exaggeration. As I have previously pointed out, many linguifications don't.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at November 13, 2006 11:49 AM