Grammar Moses: What not to serve at Thanksgiving dinner

 
 
Updated 11/23/2019 6:34 PM

Though it was first aired two months before my birth, "To Serve Man" remains my favorite episode of "The Twilight Zone."

It's likely because of the satisfying ironic ending that even as a youngster I foresaw.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

You remember the one: Seven-foot-2 Richard Kiel, who would go on to play the heavy in a couple of James Bond films, plays a Kanamit, a race of alien giants. He visits Earth during a time of great upheaval here -- famine, energy shortages and nuclear proliferation -- and offers the United Nations ways to ease strife with the Kanamits' advanced technology.

He leaves behind a book in his native language that earthly cryptographers set to work deciphering.

We soon learn that the title is "To Serve Man."

Great, everyone thinks, they're here to help.

The humans try the technology, and it works. The Kanamits start arranging visits to their home planet so we can learn more about them.

As our lead character -- the cryptographer -- starts to board the spaceship, one of the code breakers shouts: "Mr. Chambers, don't get on that ship! The rest of the book 'To Serve Man,' it's ... it's a cookbook!"

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Huzzah! There is more than one definition of "to serve." In this case, the assumption was that the Kanamits wanted to perform duties for Earthlings. In reality, the book was filled with recipes for how to prepare them for brunch.

Three years ago I wrote about the lifesaving qualities of commas. Consider the change in meaning of "Let's eat, Grandma" if you were to remove the comma. Or "Have you eaten, my child?"

Both of these are cases of cannibalism. The "Twilight Zone" episode, however, is not. Cannibalism is specifically intraspecies snacking, and the Kanamits were not Homo sapiens.

Prepare children

Readers Matt and Christine Steichmann, who apparently are uncomfortable with recycling newspapers, just last week shared with me a headline from a Page 1 story in a June newspaper about the state's kindergarten development survey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It read:

DIFFERENT WAYS TO

PREPARE CHILDREN

"Shouldn't this article have been in the Food section?" they inquired.

Har de har har.

The context is pretty clear. The woman assisting the girl in the accompanying photo was neither wearing a bloodstained apron nor wielding a cleaver. But their point is a good one.

Cooking family and dogs

Reader Shawn Killackey sent me something that has been on my radar for a couple of years. It's an old issue of Tails magazine. One of the cover headlines reads:

"Rachael Ray

finds inspiration

in cooking

her family

and her dog."

Sometimes you see a meme that you really wish were true, but deep down you know it's a fake.

In this case, an enterprising Photoshopper (not Shawn) merely removed two commas (after "cooking" and "family") to turn America's favorite booster of EVOO into a monster.

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you resist the temptation to "serve" those relatives at the Thanksgiving table whose political views diverge from yours. I know I'll give it the old college try.

And mind your commas while you're at it.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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