A Discursion into Grammar: And Then
This might be a boring topic to write on, but today I’m going to write about the meaning of the word “and.” And then, in defense of Bill Clinton, I’m going to write about the meaning of the word “is” (just kidding). You may think this to be a relatively simple topic, but as it turns out I’ve been using the wrong definition in the first draft of my latest novel (I’m not sure how Drasmyr went, but it doesn’t matter: that’s already published, errors and all). Wrong definition you say? How many definitions for “and” are there? The answer: I’m not sure, but a bloody lot. My dictionary definitions are separated by numbers and bullet points. In my dictionary, “and” lists three numbers, ten bullet points, and one set of blocked text. So, like I said, a bloody lot. But it’s all technical. Most people don’t think that hard about the meaning of “and.”
Anyway, on to the issue as it relates to me and my writing. The whole thing started with my sister (she’s my primary editor) … well, actually, it began with my word processor. I use a lot of “thens” in my writing, and it had a tendency to underline (in green) a good portion of them. I, of course, unwilling to surrender artistic license, ignored most of those underlines as I often do. My sister, however, did not. This led to a discussion as to whether I should use “and” or “then” for some sentences. Should it be “He walked into the room, then fell down?” Or should it be “He walked into the room, and fell down?” Or better yet, “He walked into the room, and then fell down?” According to my computer, the first construction is grammatically imprecise, and the last two are correct. According to my sister, the first one is wrong, the second one is right, and the last one is redundant. I, of course, was fond of the first one. Or maybe the third. But I was sure the second one just felt wrong. Why, you might ask?
Because I was a philosophy major. No, make that a double major in philosophy and math, who later went on to study computer science. I have had logic up the wazu. I was always curious about the nature of “and” when I read in a philosophy book (or math book, or computer book) a reference to a “logical and.” I always wondered, “Is there another kind of and?” Well, apparently there is. Going by the dictionary (as I said above), there’s a lot of them. And the above sentence constructions are examples of different understandings of “and.”
Going by the dictionary, the definition relevant to the above constructions, is: “and” is a conjunction used to connect two clauses when the second happens first. There is an inherent notion of time in this “and.” The first clause happens before the second, so there is no confusion in the sequence of events. Using this definition, my sister is right (Don’t tell her that!). The correct formulation is “He walked into the room, and fell down.” The third formulation is slightly redundant, and, as it is generally agreed fewer words is better the “then” should be dropped.
After many years of training in logic, the “and” I instinctively use is the “logical and.” The “logical and” is atemporal. The closest definition in the dictionary is the one that says: “and” is a conjunction used to connect words of the same part of speech, clauses, or sentences that are to be taken jointly. Two is greater than one AND less than three. Temporality is meaningless here. Using this definition of “and,” if one were to write “He walked into the room, and fell down,” that would mean the same as writing, “He walked into the room as he fell down.” Hence, I felt an aversion to using “and” in that sentence. So, the writing in my second book is peppered with “thens” which present the same meaning, but in a grammatically incorrect way. It’s not a big issue—most people probably wouldn’t even pick up on it, and besides, that book isn’t published yet; I have plenty of time to fix it.
Anyway, those were my thoughts for today.