Monday, January 26, 2009

Language 6: Hi, Shorty---a Lot

"What's the shortest sentence in the English language, shortest in terms of the least words and the least letters?" I asked my class of adult students. Jennifer raised her hand. "Yes, Miss Jennifer?"

"Is it 'I love' or 'I am'?" she asked.

"No, sorry," I said.

"Oh, I know," volunteered Adele, "it's 'Oh' or 'Ha' or 'Hi.'"

I had to swallow hard. "No. Let's go basic: What's the definition of a sentence?" At that point, my radar was drawn to Denise, the only bleached blond in the class. "Miss Denise, can you tell us?"

"Uh, a sentence is something you say," she replied.

I had to grit my teeth. "Well, I often say, 'Pinewood abstractly umbrella.' Is that a sentence?"

"I don't think so. I guess so. I don't know," Denise replied.

"No, not really, Miss Denise. In fact, the shortest sentence is 'Jeet?'"

"Jeep?" Denise reacted, "like the truck?"

"No, no---'Jeet.'" I wrote the word onto the blackboard. "'Jeet?' is shorthand slang for 'Did you eat yet?' and it's only four letters long. What do you think about that?"

"I guess so. I think I've heard that word before."

"Sentence," I corrected Denise---"not word, but sentence---thereby satisfying the still-unknown definition of a sentence and the requirement for the openly declared shortest of this unknown. Good work!"

Denise wrote what I said into her notebook, and resumed chewing her gum. I slowly erased "Jeet?"

This incident reminds me of the two entertainment-news reporters on television whom I was watching last night. "So of the five Oscar nominees for best actress, the two we just discussed have the best chance of winning, I think," said one reporter.

"Well, if neither one of those two wins, the Academy has a lot of other choices for the award," said the other reporter."

"Sweet Jesus," I said to myself, "if three other nominees represent 'a lot' of choices, I wonder what she would call, say, fifty or a hundred other choices---'lotsa lotsa' or 'lottest' or some other crappy phrase? For God's sake, woman, the word or phrase you mean is 'several' or 'a few'!"

-Old Gargoyle

1 comment:

The Cajun Gal said...

I thought a sentence was a legal thing. Ya know, like... 20 years to life? *chews gum*