I surface from the Slough of Despond, also known as “finals and grading,” to share a Horror from the moment.
A student is writing about Kate Chopin’s “The Storm,” a wonderful short story wherein a contentedly married but somewhat placid woman is visited, as a thunderstorm hangs ready to let loose, by an old flame seeking shelter. (Her husband and son are in town, at a store, where they decide to wait out the weather.) When the storm does break, so does the couple’s restraint; their lovemaking ends as the storm passes on, and he departs. When her husband and son return home, she welcomes them with a refreshed affection.
Okay, so I gave it away. Still, you should follow the link above and read it for yourself. As I said, it’s wonderful.
Anyway, my student was writing about that story. And I know you’re waiting to see how his sentence ended:
“The two re-spark their passion for each other and preform adultery.”
First of all, Chopin doesn’t seem to be saying that the passion was actively “re-spark”ed by “the two.” In usual usage, “spark” can certainly take an object but its subject is usually not a human agent. A song can spark a memory; a difference of opinion can spark a heated argument; a pair of bedroom eyes can spark an amorous flame. But it’s a rare couple, I think, who can be said to “spark their passion for each other.” At least the usage seems bizarre to me.
Anyway, passion suitably re-sparked by some means, they evidently sit down and do some planning. “Now, my dear” [heavy breathing, heavy breathing] “let’s see how to form our adultery before we actually commit it.” (“Yes yes yes yes yes” she replies, but she’s only agreeing to the shape of things to come, if I may so speak.)
Do they actually go ahead and commit adultery, or do they only pre-form it? My student doesn’t say. The readiness is all, I guess.
I’d say that “preform” is a typo, but I have seen it from too many students, and actually heard it from a few too, and I believe that’s what my student intended to type. But he didn’t intend it to mean “form ahead of time”; he meant it to mean “perform.” So is it a typographical error, or an informational error?
Let’s take him at his intended meaning rather than his intended spelling. He meant to say that they “perform adultery.”
Really? Is that a phrase that works? Does one perform adultery as one would perform a magic trick, a lobotomy, a snazzy dance step, or the Heimlich maneuver? I will admit that in my reading I have seen reference to “performing” specific sex acts (I’m an English major; we see everything). But isn’t “adultery” a concept rather than an act? Generally we use the verb “commit,” perhaps to suggest that adultery is a crime (and oh, my children, it surely is, at least in the Good Book). I don’t know what verb can be substituted satisfactorily, probably because “adultery” carries a negative judgment anyway and thus earns the “commit.”
The biggest irony, though, is that word “adultery.” If you haven’t taken the few moments to read “The Storm” yet, go and do it now. I think you will agree that the last thing Chopin intends here is a negative judgment. The storm is a force of nature that clears the air and refreshes the earth, and Chopin presents the amorous meeting in exactly that context, and with the same effect.