Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Vocative Case

Thankfully, we don't have to worry too much about the vocative case in English, because our nouns don't change depending on what prepositional jigger they're paired up with. It's still there, though, even if we can't see it, and one thing we have to remember to do is use commas to set off any noun that we're addressing directly. This can be a person, as in the following example:

"I really think you should read more prose, Glenn, because Crime and Punishment isn't a fucking poem."

Or it can be an object:

"How do you feel about being sat on by that morbidly obese woman, chair?"

Or a pair of abstractions:

"You're a painted whore, Justice, and you, Truth, are a metaphysical chimera."

You should also use commas to set off the construction you x when you're calling someone a name:

"You keyed my car, you piece of shit."

In old school English (which, if it's recognizable at all, is probably Early Modern English), like in the King James Bible, the vocative case is sometimes marked with an O, as in the following sentence:

"O God, thank you for creating Pan's Labyrinth, the best movie ever."

(This is not to be confused with the interjection "Oh!" as in, "Oh! Pan's Labyrinth was such a good movie that my balls are still tingling!")

In some other languages, like Czech, for example, it's a little more complicated, because the ending of the noun changes as well. My friend's name is Ondra, but I have to change it to Ondro in the following sentence:

"You're still my friend, Ondro, even though you screwed my girlfriend after you both got drunk at Skleněná Louka that time."

Some people lament the abuse of commas. Well, I say, "Don't forget--neglect is abuse too!"

(Image from


Quammy said...

Pan's Labyrinth is a pretty sweet movie. I started watching it thinking it was a kids movie, not an allegory filled with fantastical creatures and brutal fascists. But then again, maybe kids movies are more hard core in this day and age.

Troy Camplin said...

Children's stories have always been hardcore -- up until the advent of Disneyification and PC. Read the original Cinderella -- not a lot of pleasantries.

Pan's Labyrinth was fantastic. My wife and I loved it.

Gotta love how the movie reference is what was picked out of all the stuff on grammar. :-)

John said...

Pan's Labyrinth was fucking sweet. I have some friends who were like, "Oh, it was too brutal and violent, and not magical enough." I say, "Then go watch The Little Mermaid, pussies."

HedgeWitch said...

I dislike grammar nazis. I understand the necessity, but really, the only people that pick up on it are the types that don't have a constructive argument against whichever particular point someone else is making at the time.
Pan's Labyrinth was a mixed bag for me. She didn't go to magical lala land in the end, she just died. I guess that sums up my imagination. It did however inspire me to learn how to spell labyrinth. Something David Bowie and his goblins never quite managed to do. Also a good film though. :)
I thought the original Cinderella was in chinese? :S

John said...

Nice to hear from you, HedgeWitch. I'm not sure I totally agree with you on the issue of Ofelia's death. There's a part in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in which Mrs. Ramsey is putting her children to bed, and there's a cow's skull on the wall. The girl thinks it's scary and wants her to take it down, but the boy wants her to leave it up. So she takes her shawl and wraps it around the skull, and tells the girl beautiful stories while she's doing it, and the girl drops off to sleep. Then she assures the boy that it's still there under the shawl.

The cow's skull is death, and the universe of "dead" matter in which we "just die." "La la land" is the stories we weave around it. I think they give each other meaning in a reciprocal, emergent way. For my money, I'd say not only did Ofelia die AND go to la la land, but we might both get to ask her about it someday ourselves.

John said...

And take it easy on grammar nazis. A sense for the integrity of a sentence is much like a sense for the integrity of an argument. We need more of both in our brave new century.