My mom was a word freak so that explains how I got this way. Like when I was playing poker with Izzy Gonyet, the relentless debater. Izzy snookered me real cute on a hand and tricked me into paying him off.
“Nice hand,” I said. “You play good.”
Izzy’s reply jerked me back to childhood, to nuns and rulers and pain. “You are incorrect,” he said. “I do not play good. I play well.”
And I’m like, dude, get a clue. I suppose next you’re going to tell me that “running bad” should be “running badly”? And that “I play loose and you play tight” should be “I play loosely and you play tightly”?
“Yes,” Izzy said sternly. “That is how it should be, in proper English.”
I prayed to my mother’s soul for the strength to walk away from this fight. That’s like asking Attila the Hun for negotiation advice.
So there I was — trained, like Izzy, to know the rules of grammar. But unlike Izzy, I was fond of breaking them, like how Neil Young breaks guitar strings, ready to defend humanity’s collective authority and say and write whatever I damn well please. Why? Because on the river of life, my raft has no oars. And Izzy Gonyet was still there, on his chosen course, steering right into me.
That’s how Izzy is. He is the nit in nitpicker. He has Izzy tizzies. You should see him when something barely goes wrong at the table. He calls the floorman and brings out his boomy voice, like he’s testifying for the Supreme Court. Or when he orders a glass of water and the waitress forgets to…
Heck, what’s it matter? You got the picture. Izzy is a treasure. And naturally, I wanted to bury him.
I told Izzy that language is like a lake. It appears unchanging on the surface, while all the while, fresh water is flowing in, and old usage evaporates.
I told him that when a poker player says, “You play good,” that’s not English. It’s poker-speak. And poker-speak is cool because it sounds like a slow-moving, cigar-smoking Texan, like when we say that the deck hit a guy in the face and he got broke anyway.
“Is ‘rubberneck’ a word?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “‘Rubberneck’ is a word, because it is in the dictionary.”
“Then what about your least favorite type of player — ‘slowrollers’? Are they in the dictionary? Or how about the ‘floplag’ you’re always moaning about? Izzy, you are guilty of using words that Webster will never even hear. Shame shame.”
Izzy squirmed and conceded that some words are acceptable even if they are not in the dictionary. “And besides,” he said. “‘Floplag’ is a made up word.”
“But Izzy… aren’t all words made up?”
That stopped him cold, so I turned up the heat. “Enough with words, let’s talk about grammatically incorrect phrases. Like what you said after Joe won four racks. You said, ‘He’s got game.’ Or how about what you said after Bill went busted? You said, ‘He came off his cheese.’ He did what to his what?”
Izzy was out of outs. So he did the sidestep and reminded me that we were initially talking about the misuse of the adjective “good” in place of the adverb “well.”
“Well,” I said, “It’s good that you brought that up. When it comes to ‘well’ and ‘good,’ we’ll never agree that it’s all well and good, so let’s be good and leave it well enough alone.”
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