Calvin and Hobbes walk into a bar. Grammar cop says Oh no they didn’t.

From today’s Read 2 You’d think a column arguing that Calvin and Hobbes is the best comic strip ever couldn’t start an argument. Yet it does. Also, Mary Norris rocks.

Why Calvin and Hobbes was America’s most profound comic strip. Christopher Caldwell at The Wall Street Journal.

Two things set the strip apart. First, the artistry of it, from its broad color palette (on Sundays) to the dynamism and physicality of its brush-drawn figures. Calvin and Hobbes have their conversations on a toboggan as it flies off the lip of a mogul, or stretching their arms to balance as they cross a wobbly log over a creek, or tumbling through frames at the reader as they fight. Calvin is drawn as simply as Charlie Brown, but the dinosaurs that pass through his mind are drawn in the heavily shadowed photo-realism of 1950s comic books. Calvin’s fantasies are always more vivid, more real than reality.

It is these dreams that are the real subject of the strips: the city of Stupidopolis that Calvin builds out of sand castles and destroys, the Transmogrifier (actually a cardboard box) that will turn him into a tiger like Hobbes, the efforts of Stupendous Man to duck schoolwork and of Spaceman Spiff (“poised precariously over a percolating pit of putrid pasta”) to avoid the inedible meals that Calvin’s mother serves. (Calvin’s own preference is for a breakfast cereal called Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs.)

It is these dreams that are the real subject of the strips: the city of Stupidopolis that Calvin builds out of sand castles and destroys, the Transmogrifier (actually a cardboard box) that will turn him into a tiger like Hobbes, the efforts of Stupendous Man to duck schoolwork and of Spaceman Spiff (“poised precariously over a percolating pit of putrid pasta”) to avoid the inedible meals that Calvin’s mother serves. (Calvin’s own preference is for a breakfast cereal called Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs.)

An argument about grammar breaks out in the comments.

Charles Klaniecki, 14 hours ago:

I write to the author re “From these situations emerges a social and a philosophical vision…”. Should it not be the following?: “From these situations emerge a social and a philosophical vision…” Otherwise, great essay.

Anna Chodakiewicz Wellisz 13 hours ago:

No, “vision” is the subject of the sentence, not “these situations,” which is why “emerges” is the correct verb; “these situations” is the object of the preposition. To see the syntax more clearly, try rearranging the word order: “A social and a philosophical vision emerges from these situations.”

Bruce Margolius 13 hours ago:

Anna would be correct if there were not a second “a”. But there is, so she’s wrong. If I have a red and a blue truck, I have two trucks, not a red and blue truck.

Anna Chodakiewicz Wellisz 13 hours ago:

>No, it’s really the subject, not the number of attributes, that matters in subject-verb agreements. The subject is “vision,” and the two adjectives that describe it do not make it “visions.” I suspect that is why the WSJ editors left the sentence be. At the risk of creating a verbal comic strip of sorts, I give you another example of a sentence, also with two attributes and two independent articles: “A brave and a wise man he is.” The syntax may be archaic, even awkward, but the man who is the subject of my sentence remains only one man, just as the vision, both social and philosophical, remains only one vision (the word “vision” rather than “visions” is our clue left by the writer). It is a somewhat pretentious sentence, but it is nevertheless grammatically correct. Signing off–

JEFF SWAIL 11 hours ago:

A brave and a wise man walk into a bar……

Anna Chodakiewicz Wellisz 10 hours ago:

If you want to have two men, or, technically speaking, a compound subject, here is how you would write it: “A wise man and a brave man walk into a bar…” Your sentence, as it stands now, has only one man, both brave and wise, doing the walking, and therefore, you have a subject-verb agreement error.

Despite the two modifiers (“brave” and “wise”), there is a simple third person singular subject (“man”), and so there needs to be a third person singular verb to match (“walks,” not “walk”): “A brave and a wise man walks into a bar…”

Whatever your intentions in writing this sentence, two modifiers really do not turn that particular man into two. Only adding another man could do that. I can’t ask you to trust me on this because there is no reason why you should, but I suggest that you look it up.

Regards.

This particular grammar cop does not do humor.

The New Yorker’s grammarian, Mary Norris, does:

Even something as ostensibly simple as the serial comma can arouse strong feelings. The serial comma is the one before “and” in a series of three or more things. With the serial comma: My favorite cereals are Cheerios, Raisin Bran, and Shredded Wheat. Without the serial comma: I used to like Kix, Trix and Wheat Chex.…

[t]he Internet is busy with examples of series that are absurd without the serial comma:

“We invited the strippers, J.F.K. and Stalin.” (This has been illustrated online, and formed the basis of a poll: which stripper had the better outfit, J.F.K. or Stalin.)

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

And there was the country-and-Western singer who was joined onstage by his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings.

 

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