L.A. and Confidential

If any CHP patrolman or Starbucks barista wrote this scene in a screenplay (everybody in California from San Luis Obispo to the Mexico border is writing a screenplay), even the 19-year-old Paramount Studios summer intern would groan at the desperate ploy for a laugh. It’s funny only if it’s truly accidental and innocent, as it was. And if you hear the story on a Saturday afternoon while wine tasting with a few friends in Sideways country east of Santa Barbara, as I did, you will snort the Pinot out your nostrils, as I also did. Although Nabokov once said there’s no such thing as a “true story,” this is a true story.

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Green Cherries in the Fruitcake

I have discovered why nobody in Congress wants to compromise: incest. If you don’t want to think beyond your own closed mind, you won’t want someone else’s ideas in there mucking things up. So that makes fertile ground for incestuous ideas--ideas that have affairs with other closely-related ideas--narrowing one’s perspective, until all the ideas in your head are first cousins.

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Eeyore Halfheartedly Hung His Tail

Many of you know about the exciting life I lead here in a cabin in the woods, surrounded by deer, raccoons, coyotes, rabbits (that tantalize the coyotes), and all sorts of words (that tantalize me). My life is so exciting, I can spend hours entranced by the word that. Talk about a good time. But that is not a simple word; it is a mystical word. It lurks in about half of our sentences, changing chameleonlike from conjunction, to pronoun, to adjective. (We’re not even talking about the difference between that and which in a relative clause (See Tip: “The Million-Dollar Comma”); that's a different story.) That might be the most interesting word in the English language. I just made up this sentence with seven thats in a row, and the sentence is grammatically correct:

 

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Alice in Law-Law-Land

The lawyers will understand. “Yeah, that’s pretty much where I live.” But I want to take the rest of you deep inside the world of law, where words get minced, teeth get gnashed, and Alice gets invoked. A world, where, if you don’t like the definition of a word, you just make up your own.

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Flaubert's Pickles

I love the English language. So many words, so much nuance. We live in a lush vineyard of vocabulary. We stroll through, squeezing ripe, plump words, pondering. Carefully, we pick them and blend them into fine sentences that grow richer with age, deep and full-bodied or crisp and fruity, abounding with their own cherry and tobacco, pineapple and chocolate, blackberry and coffee, some with a peppery finish. Often the difference between words is so subtle, we’re not even sure there is one. Like a hint at the end: is that a soupçon of apricot or peach?

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Parrot Skewers at Vilcabamba

 

Throughout history, whole societies almost overnight have gone the way of the dodo. For example, history records that the Pizarro brothers took down 10 million Inca with 168 men (plus confusing pale skin, a few blunderbusses, and a dollop of smallpox). But a little-known fact is that earlier in the 16th century, Inca society already had weakened internally, as whole segments of the population, from Machu Picchu to Vilcabamba, could not decide if they needed commas in the following sentence:

 

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A Melody for the Eyes

When we refer to someone as a “born writer,” we mean this person has an ear tuned to the sound words make on paper, an innate ability to turn syntax into a melody for the eyes. If that innate ability were an orchestra, the string section would be parallel construction.

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Sasquatch on Noah's Ark

You're on "Coast-to-Coast" with George Noory, and for one hour you’ve debated George’s other guest, who is an expert on where Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat. He has scripture and physical proof, and never mind that the proof has long been identified as wood splinters from a railroad tie in Long Beach.

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No Joke

I owe everyone a huge apology. Two weeks ago, I told you about the summer I learned to type. I included this sentence in the original: “I could bang out 17 words a minute with no more that six or seven mistakes.” Mindy, who sends the Tips to you, thought I did it on purpose because the typo appeared in a sentence about making typos. And because she knows I have a weakness for irony, hidden jokes, and generally stupid, tongue-in-cheek stuff, she thought, "How deliciously ironic." Although still ironic, that was a real typo, but I thought, "What a great idea!" Then I thought, Even better, instead of that-which-should-be-than, let's make it sex-which-should-be-six. That way, nobody will miss the joke. HaHA!

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Low-Flying "Ls"

From deep in my soul, I apologize for writing this Tip. So many of you have asked me about this, however, it begs for comment, and I have a weakness for the inane. But this is the lamest, least important writing Tip I have ever written, or will ever write. It’s not even a “writing” Tip; it’s a “typing” Tip.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder
Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for the American Bar Association, the Social Security Administration, PG&E, Kraft, Microsoft, and law firms like Jones Day, Sidley, and WilmerHale. His critically-acclaimed Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea hit #7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to provide writers a full-time, reliable editor; to save them time and money; and to give them the confidence their writing is as clear and concise as they can make it. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has awarded nine patents to WordRake's unique technology, and Harvard Law School has recognized WordRake as "Disruptive Innovation."