Thursday, September 23, 2010

Odd First Sentences

When I read my title, I was reminded of the Stephen Wright joke, "I got in a terrible fight at the roulette table with the croupier over what I considered to be an odd number." (It occurred to me as I read the title that all 1st sentences are odd--literally.)

OK, so I'm reading an article in American Rifleman (not mine, someone left it laying around at work) and the opening sentence is "It's surprising how many of our most useful and reliable cartridges started in the military."

You gotta wonder what is so surprising about that. I don't know much about guns and ammo, but if you came to me and said you needed something good in that line and asked my opinion about where to go, I'd probably come up with "See the Army." That's what they do, they shoot at people and they try to do it accurately and with great effect. They should know.

About 35 years ago I picked up a copy of my company's employee newsletter, and there was an article profiling one of the employees. Its opening line was "Bill certainly fits the mold of 'he's one of a kind.'" If he's one of a kind, why is there a mold? The sad part is that we were a manufacturing company, you'd think we would understand the concept of a mold.

And now a bit of a bonus, the original line that inspired the Bulwer-Lytton award:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

 --Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Note that its claim to infamy has more to do with the length and rambling nature, not the inherent badness of its oft abbreviated version, "It was a dark and stormy night." Had he left it at that, I think it would have been right up there with "Call me Ishmael." Hmmmm. Maybe I'll do a sequel to Moby Dick from the perspective of his girlfriend. Opening line: "Call me, Ishmael." (Apologies to Lynne Truss)

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