Grunt – 6 November 2013

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Now, it’s not unusual for minibuses to have names of various kinds; Explicit Content is one rather bewildering local example. Large haulage lorries also carry names above their front windscreens. And most men refer to their domestic wagons in female terms. There’s probably some profound Freudian explanation for that. Or could it be something to do with that return-to-the-womb stuff?
The other day, I was driving home when I found myself behind a minibus. I couldn’t help but notice that just above the rear window of this mobile sardine tin on steroids were the words: Only prohibited by the ocean. Why not. Having been in the word business in numerous ways for more than forty years, I was reminded of Noam Chomsky’s meaningless sentence. At the same time, I was left pondering the possibility that the taxi owner might actually be familiar with Chomsky’s example, which reads: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously. (Some writers quote the sentence as Colourless dreams sleep furiously.) He created this sentence to show that it was possible to have a sentence that was perfectly correct grammatically without conveying any logical meaning.
The minibus’s motto took my mind back to boarding school, and the Sunday morning services (which were obligatory in those days). I remembered one when the guest preacher opted for a short passage from the first Book of Corinthians (13:12): For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. I have to admit – would confess be a better word? – his erudite explanation of the passage’s spiritual complexities and implications did little to quell my rampant teenage hormones. However, when I asked my English teacher about these words, he said that the preacher should have analysed the passage as poetry rather than as dogma; it would probably make more sense then. With startling insight, he demonstrated what he meant. That was when my lifelong fascination with reading and writing poetry began. Then I wondered what he would have made of the minibus’s text.
And, Noam, if you want meaningless sentences, why not read a taxi. It’s that easy.