"Knock knock." "Who's there?" "To." "To who?" "To WHOM." #CenturyOfStyle"
Tuesday night (November 8) was a rainy night. The first Tuesday following Daylight Savings falling back and the first night that felt like November. What could possibly motivate over 200 people to travel down to the University of Chicago campus, find parking, and sit in the International House Assembly Hall, tweeting, texting, and whooping at a declaration of fealty to the Oxford comma?
"Dear Anita Samen: RE your opinion of "comprised of." Will you marry me? #centuryofstyle"
If you answered "A 109 year old book, in its 16th edition, that parses out suggested rules of grammar and punctuation" you'd be correct.
The Chicago Manual: A Century of Style was a WBEZ Off-Air Series event that equalled a Word Geek's dream come true - the two editors of the book, a University of Chicago Linguistics professor, and the former writer of the New York Times Magazine's "On Language" column all onstage discussing words and usage and the minutia of language. Hosting the discussion masterfully was Alison Cuddy, host of WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight and, in my opinion, one of the best round table moderators in the business. (watch the full conversation in the video atop the page)
As if that weren't enough, the UofC's David Pickett and our own Breeze Richardson (along with a crew of five technicians and three camera operators) produced a live webcast of the event, provided an opportunity for the audience to ask questions during the discussion via Twitter as witnessed on two 10 foot screens flanking the stage, AND gave the audience an opportunity to vote continuously in live online polls that asked questions like "Is 'whom' extinct?" and "Which is most correct? (e-mail or email)."
"I agree w/ @CFSaller: I agree with singular "they" in theory. Still have a hard time w/ it in reality. #MakesMeDoubleTake #CenturyOfStyle"
I confessed earlier that this subject matter is not my wheelhouse. So, in addition to running back and forth a bit to make sure things were running smoothly, I sat in the front row with my iPhone set to text my answers to the polls and my iPad on my lap following the Twitter feed and my ears listening to the talk. It was a multi-tasking juggling act for my brain that left me dizzy by the time it was over.
The takeaway (for myself, at least) was that passion - for anything - is compelling and fun. Sitting in a hall filled with people genuinely passionate for the intricacies of language and the suggested guideposts offered by the historic manual was at times fun, at others funny, but always enthusiastic. Alison even managed to open up a few controversies that elicited some heated reactions - the best example I can cite was contained in an email (e-mail?) I received the next morning (which means this audience member thought on this all night):
"It was impressive what a good turnout there was last night! But I was horrified to hear you all call "their" a possessive pronoun. It's a possessive adjective. A pronoun takes the place of a noun, while an adjective modifies a noun. You could have used the possessive pronoun "they" to discuss the nongendered singular. I'm persnickety because I teach French, where this kind of error is not possible."
So, where do you stand on the pressing style issues of the day? Take our polls and let us know!
NOTE: POLLING IS NOW CLOSED.