Tuesday, July 31, 2007
To be read on "a dark and stormy night"
"SAN FRANCISCO - A Wisconsin man whose blend of awkward syntax, imminent disaster and bathroom humor offends both good taste and the English language won an annual contest Monday that salutes bad writing.
"Jim Gleeson, 47, of Madison, Wis., beat out thousands of other prose manglers in San Jose State University's 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with this convoluted opening sentence to a nonexistent novel:
"'Gerald began — but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them 'permanently' meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash — to pee,' Gleeson wrote.
"Scott Rice, an English professor at San Jose State, called Gleeson's entry a 'syntactic atrocity' that displays 'a peculiar set of standards or values.' Rice has organized the contest since founding it in 1982."
The contest is named for Victorian English author George Bulwer-Lytton. His 1830 novel Paul Clifford opened with this convoluted humdinger: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
Bulwer-Lytton wrote a number of horror stories, and they scare me. (I'm afraid to try them!)