arika okrent / the judges loudly proclaim / winning haikuist

Arika Okrent tapped into a universal feeling of realization and dread when she wrote her winning entry for the 2013 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest:

arika-okrentI am an error
And I will reveal myself
After you press send

Soon after, she tweeted an amendment:

Make that “send”

“It became a self-fulfilling haiku,” Okrent said. “I wish I could say I planned it that way.”

Sticklers might accuse us of further stretching the definition of “grammar” (the second-place winner out of 269 entries was about punctuation). Grammar is commonly used as a catch-all for the way we present ourselves verbally. Okrent’s haiku speaks to all those errors we invariably make when we’re trying to be careful writing a letter, sending a tweet or updating a Facebook status.

The experience is universal. Okrent is a linguist, book author, and writer for Mental Floss and The Word. We might say she’s one who knows where the comma goes.

But she has her own theory about why errors reveal themselves after we hit “send.” I asked her via e-mail to tell us about the motivation for the winning haiku:

“I was thinking about the fact that there is always some mistake I ONLY see when a piece is published,” she said. “I imagine those mistakes as little sentient beings who hide behind some kind of pixel invisibility cloak giggling until they throw off the cloak at publication.”

Yes, she’s not just a word geek. Okrent is probably our first winner who speaks Klingon. She also speaks American Sign Language, which is very cool, but let me repeat: She speaks Klingon. I hoped she’d have a Klingon haiku to share.

“I don’t usually write poetry, but I love to respond to little creative challenges that let me put off work a bit longer,” she wrote. “I have never penned a poem in Klingon, but I have performed in a Klingon version of Hamlet.”

Okrent, 42, talks about Klingon in her “In the Land of Invented Languages.”

Cover of "In the Land of Invented Languag...

Cover via Amazon

She picked up the gauntlet in the 2011 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest, earning an honorable mention for this haiku:

Each writer who writes
he/she should stand up and fight
for singular “they”

And she wrote this, a favorite of mine, in 2011:

Serial commas
tiny poison-tipped curved darts
in the style-guide wars

I had to ask, Okrent being a linguist, about her thoughts on the tired-old battle between so-called “prescriptivists” and those who use the label “descriptivists.”

“I like grammar! And I think usage standards are useful. But I’d like to get rid of the idea that they are the glue that holds society together,” she wrote. “I wish there were a way to promote respect for non-standard dialects without people accusing you of calling for an end to civilization.

“Maybe one day we’ll have an ‘American Grammars Pavillion’ at the National Grammar Day fair where people can sample bits of Louisiana Creole, Appalachian English, and American Spanglish and come out amazed that no matter what people do with language, they end up with a system.”

Her doctorate come from the University of Chicago, and she lives in Philadelphia, where she sometimes makes bagels.

Her name, by the way, is pronounced like Erika. Okrent is OAK-rent.

The initial screening of our 269 entries was done by a freelance copy editor and his amenable wife, an Ohio State University education professor. They culled the list down to the top 10 entries, plus about seven more they couldn’t ignore. A five-judge panel of word experts then added another dozen or so favorites to that list. They then entered the virtual grammar conclave to discuss and vote on the winners.

Our esteemed judges were:

Check out the official National Grammar Day website for more March 4 activities.



10 thoughts on “arika okrent / the judges loudly proclaim / winning haikuist

  1. I have a feeling that before I figured out how to have my web-based email program automatically spellcheck every message, I probably was not considered for several employment opportunities because of fat-fingered typos.

  2. Pingback: March Forth « Yard Work

  3. Pingback: #grammarday #haiku #winner | Word Geeks

    • No it is not. Such a thing exists. In constructed languages it is common for people to write poetry or songs, just as it is common in natural languages for some people to decide to write poetry or lyrics for what ever reasons we may hold, and for whatever intentions of meaning (if any) we may have in writing it.

  4. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.”

    It just doesn’t sound like something a Klingon would say.

    • This translation, found in two places, does sound a bit more Klingonesque, emphasizing retreat rather than indecision:

      It either endures, or it does not endure. Now, I must consider this sentence.
      Is it honourable, when one endures the torpedoes and phasers of agressive fate?
      Or, when one obtains weapons to fight a seeming ocean of troubles,
      And when, by fighting, one finishes them? One dies. One sleeps. One merely sleeps.
      And when one sleeps, its is believed that one can finish the pain of the heart
      And the thousand revolts which one’s body must succeed to.
      We are certainly willing to initiate this way to finish life.
      One dies. One sleeps. When one sleeps, perhaps one dreams. Well, this situation seems to be the obstacle!
      What we can soon dream of, while sleeping in death,
      Having thrown away from our shoulders the cargo of the mortal —
      When we consider that, we must retreat. We must endure disasters,
      Because this idea makes us endure them. It lengthens the life of the disasters.

  5. Pingback: How Do We Love Thee, Grammar? Count the Ways on Grammar Day - Cogito

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