It depends on what the meaning of “is” is
February 21, 2012
Can one word-change destroy a joke? I only ask because I reviewed William Boyd’s latest novel, Waiting for Sunrise, in last Saturday’s Guardian. (SPOILER: I didn’t like it much!) At one point, I wrote:
Many sentences could have done with extra care: early on, Lysander is seen “staring at a flowerbed in a fearful quandary”, which seems an unwise place to put a flowerbed.
But at some point during the editing process, my “seems” was changed to an “is”, resulting in the following version of the sentence being printed:
Many sentences could have done with extra care: early on, Lysander is seen “staring at a flowerbed in a fearful quandary”, which is an unwise place to put a flowerbed.
Personally I feel sad about this “is”. It sounds like I am a pompous pedantic dullard making grand claims to horticultural expertise. You may well think that I am a pompous pedantic dullard, readers, but I don’t actually think I am any good at garden-planning in urban spaces. Maybe it was a poor joke in the first place? But, you know, one poor joke can still be funnier than another. So I am going to put the question to the stern test of blog democracy, or blogcracy. Which word do you think makes the sentence funnier, “seems” or “is”? Please describe your reasons in the comments. Thanks for your “input”!