Grammar Moses: I have the perfect wife

  • Would the dictionary definitions of "perfect" and "unique" allow for anything to be "more perfect" or "somewhat unique"? I think not.

    Would the dictionary definitions of "perfect" and "unique" allow for anything to be "more perfect" or "somewhat unique"? I think not.

 
 
Updated 7/17/2021 5:52 PM

So, I left the stove burner on the other day while engrossed in a novel over lunch.

As I was cleaning up the dishes, I caught a whiff of natural gas -- and quickly snapped it off.

 

"Boy, I'm glad that was you," my wife said, relieved that it was I -- not she -- who nearly blew us up.

"It couldn't have been me, because I'm much more perfect," she added.

Such is the dynamic in my house.

This, of course, launched a discussion about whether one can be "more perfect," idiom notwithstanding. "Or slightly pregnant."

I'm sure you've heard someone -- whether that someone is you or another person -- remark, "That's even more perfect."

I'm sure I've had occasion to at least think that to myself as a slab of triple chocolate cake the size of a stovepipe hat is delivered to a neighboring table just as I dig into my diminutive slice of carrot cake. And, man, I love carrot cake.

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Logically, can something be "more perfect"?

I'm speaking of absolutes, of course, and English is not the kind of language that looks kindly upon absolutes.

It used to be that "dead" was dead. But then Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and George Romero pretty much put an end to that notion.

It's hard to swing a dead cat in Hollywood these days without hitting a zombie.

There is "pregnant," of course. You could generate enough electricity to power a small city with the friction caused by the when-is-a-baby-a-baby debate, but you likely will get quick consensus on when someone is pregnant.

You is or you isn't, as they say.

Some argue being "correct" is an absolute. Don't count me among them. Sure, in the rigid world of math, you're much more likely to be correct or incorrect, but in other endeavors in which someone must interpret whether you're correct, too many variables or competing perspectives come into play.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sure, the 1971 Dodge Challenger is the perfect automobile. No one can dispute that. Yes, even when it's painted purple.

Ralph Nader, however, would have preferred it had air bags and other safety features, so it wouldn't be perfect in his eyes. He thought that about many cars, notably the Chevy Corvair.

DO NOT get me started on "unique." I've developed a twitch in my right eye that is triggered when I hear things that are mass-produced described as "somewhat unique" or "really unique."

That a car design can be unique is one thing, but that a factory produces tens of thousands of them makes the car itself short of unique (and by that I do not mean "partially unique" but simply not meeting the standard of oneness).

Chicago Bull Artis Gilmore, according to a colleague who had been a toll collector, modified his two-door Lincoln by removing the back seat and sitting in the middle of the car to drive. The A-Train was 7-foot-2, after all, and needed the leg room. By doing so, he made his car "unique."

Most of the time when people call something "somewhat unique" they're not engaging in syntactic hairsplitting. They just don't know what the word means. Rather, they mean something is "unusual" or "rare."

Now, back to "perfect."

When James Madison put quill to vellum and scratched out the Constitution, right there in the first line he wrote "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union ... "

Was he suggesting the Union was perfect by 1787's standards but that it would improve to meet the growing expectations of the fledgling nation?

That four years later the framers came up with the Bill of Rights certainly suggests so.

Thank goodness they weren't so stubborn to think they'd gotten it perfect right out of the gate, or I might not be allowed to write this stupid column.

I've never laid claim to being perfect, and I'm sure you will quibble with one or more parts of my analysis.

That's to be expected, and that's the fun of this.

Just know this: My wife is more perfect than I.

And I'm perfectly fine with that.

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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