“He doesn’t share his paycheck with his family; instead, he blows it on boos.”

First let us celebrate the beautiful use of the semicolon here. Very nice punctuation! Bravo!

Now to the words.

The first clause is fairly unobjectionable. The contraction is a deviation from what I call in class “academic” prose, a little too informal for the kind of paper we generally assign in college courses. True, we have relaxed some of the expectations of academic prose—some scientists are even accepting “I” and “we” in descriptions of experiments to allow writers to avoid overuse of the passive voice!—but maintaining a whiff of dignity in the verbs is still nice. Actually, when I used to teach Copy Editing and Intermediate Composition courses I encouraged students to avoid negating the verb by choosing verbs or other substantive words that carried the intended meaning by themselves: e.g., instead of “not go,” “remain”; instead of “not have,” “lack”; instead of “not anyone,” “no one.” I probably would have suggested revising this sentence to “Instead of sharing his paycheck with his family, he….”

Perhaps “doesn’t” is to blame for “blows it” in the second clause. Once the student has kicked off his shoes with “doesn’t,” he has relaxed enough to put his feet up on the sofa with “blows it.” I do recognize the judgmental force of “blows it,” as opposed to, say, “spends it”; on the other hand, “squanders” is waiting for a chance to come in here, and my student has prevented it from entering by settling for “blows.” (One of the moments of joy for me in the radio show Car Talk is hearing one of the “Tappet Brothers” inform us, in his delicious Southy Boston accent, that we have “squawwwndehed an howah” listening. What a verb!)

And then, at last, we run smack into that last word. Did I actually have as a student the only college freshman unacquainted with “booze”?

I am willing to entertain the possibility that this sentence was written by one of my dyslexic students, although I do try not to include such errors in my Book of Horrors. “Boos” may just be what SpellCheck came up with for a student who accidentally typed “booz,” or “boze,” or “boose,” or even “booe.” Surely he didn’t mean “boos,” didn’t think the slang word for liquor actually was the same as the word audiences sometimes shout at ideas or performances they dislike—surely not, I hope, because if he did, he lives in a strange world indeed, where either negative shouts cost money or drinks are flung at speakers. And where a person who wanted only one drink would order a boo.

“We couldn’t pay the rent this month because my husband chose to go to an opera he knew he was going to hate, so he could yell ‘boo’ at the soprano.” Yeah, lady, a likely story.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

One response to ““He doesn’t share his paycheck with his family; instead, he blows it on boos.”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    Just read on Yahoo news that lovely people are anonymously paying off lay-away plans at KMart, so that people who would otherwise be unable to get their chosen purchases home in time for Christmas will be able to give gifts to their families. This makes a nice contrast to the spirit of the father who preferred boos to the welfare of his folks.

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