The Pregnant Pause
The writer turned over in bed, torn between composing the next dramatic sentence of his novel and the subtler lures of sleep. Just as his subconscious formed the phrase: “There was a pregnant pause…”, his mind relaxed into sleep.
The thought was trapped where it was formed in his brain, deep in the word-generating convolutions of the cortex. Swiftly, the denizens of the verbal underworld pounced on it.
“Psst! Have you heard?” hissed the quotation mark.
“Heard what?” asked her partner at the other end.
“About the pause. The pause is pregnant!”
“Well! Well!” cried the exclamation mark. “Whatever next!”
“What I’m in a terrible hurry to know,” panted the dash, “is who did it - who’s the wicked father-to-be?”
“You can stop looking at me,” said the dot dot dot. “I’ll admit I often insinuate, but I never inseminate. Maybe one of the parentheses did it… They always seem to need a suitably curved partner.”
“You’re asking for a punch up the bracket,” retorted the parenthesis (or bracket). “We need a suitable partner, yes, but no one could say a pause was a possible partner for a parenthesis. Anyway, how do you know the pause is pregnant?”
“I can answer that,” replied the full stop gravely. “The pause missed her period twice, and that’s a most serious matter.”
“Well, I didn’t do it,” said the colon. “I was feeling much too turgid when the pause must have conceived, though I feel a new man since my irrigation. It could have been the solidus who did it: we all know he has his inclinations.”
“You’re doubly dotty to accuse me, colon,” replied the solidus/oblique. “After all, I’d only just had a stroke.”
“Yes, but stroking whom?” chipped in a kinky comma.
“Look ^up there!” indicated the caret.
They looked - and saw that a question mark hung over them all.
“Which of you made the improper liaison?” it asked.
“Not I,” replied the ampersand, curling its curves tighter & hugging its tail. “I was only briefly standing in for AND. Perhaps it was the hyphen - always trying to cut a bit of a dash & link up with anything in sight.”
“Thank you, but I’m a hyphen, not a lowphen,” came the dignified reply, “I’m an upper-class mark but not upper case.”
“I don’t believe that any of us respectable punctuation marks would ravish a pause,” said the semicolon. “After all, most of us put a stop to things or at least come in in the middle; we don’t usually start things on our own. It’s far more likely that one of those words did it.”
“Yes,” said the apostrophe, “it must’ve been that horrid little word OF. Not only is he terribly possessive, but he frequently has tendencies that can only be described as pro-genitive. The pause’s pregnancy’s cause is obvious.”
“Of course it wasn’t me,” replied OF indignantly. “It was far more likely to be you, apostrophe, always hanging around those sinuous s’s - might easily go for a pause, too.”
This reply made the apostrophe so cross that he was almost beside himself with rage, looking more and more like an umlaut every minute. Pairs of ‘acutes’ and ‘graves’ twittered in foreign accents, looking like sets of raised eyebrows besides the frown of the circumflex. The cedilla softened gently under the sea.
“Perhaps a determiner did it,” offered a critical diacritic.
“We are extremely important,” said a very determined determiner. “We distinguish between this pregnancy and that pregnancy, and between a pregnancy and the pregnancy, but we never cause a pregnancy.”
“We’re all getting nowhere,” snapped the asterisk. “We still haven’t identified the ****ing villain who ****ed the pause. My guess is that INTO done it. He’s always trying to proposition things.”
“All right, so I take the accusative,” said INTO, “but I can’t simultaneously be dative or genitive.”
“He’s got a case there - several in fact,” remarked the ablative absolute, “so we must see that his case goes to the right court.”
“That’s easy,” pointed out a rather demonstrative pronoun. “It all depends on the type of word. If it’s lower case, it goes to the lower court; if it’s upper case, it goes to the higher court, where it can be sentenced to CAPITAL punishment.”
“I don’t think a preposition would proposition a pause into pregnancy,” remarked INTO. “It’s far more likely to have been a verb: they’re always doing things, not just showing others the way.”
“Don’t blame me,” said WAS DONE. “I’ve been in a passive mood for ages! The guilty party must have been in an active mood, like FORCE.”
FORCE looked threateningly at WAS DONE. “No!” he shouted. “Force, forced. See, I’m only a weak verb. I couldn’t have raped the pause single-handed. It would have taken a strong verb, like DO, DID.”
“But I didn’t!” answered DID, “not with the pause, anyway. I had my heart set on a gorgeous feminine noun, but when I wanted to conjugate, the noun simply declined!”
“Well, that’s indicative, I must say,” declared the imperative bossily. “Come on, own up, you verbs. Tell us who did it.”
“Not I,” said WAS SAYING. “I may be imperfect, but I’m past falling for pauses. Surely HAD DONE has done it?”
“Impossible,” snapped back HAD DONE. “I’m too old for that sort of thing. They tell me I’m past historic but recently I’ve been feeling positively prehistoric.”
“And may your future always be completely perfect,” added a kindly adverb. “Personally, I think BUT did it, in conjunction with others of his kind.”
“But BUT never!” BUT butted in. “Surely it was MATING that made the pause pregnant? I can prove that that participle was present at the time.”
“Yes, I was present, and still am,” admitted MATING, “but when I’m on the job, I’m too eager to keep stopping for mere pauses. I’d say one of those burly nouns did it, one of those substantial substantives.”
“Well, it wasn’t me,” said ANALYSIS, not stopping to think what he was saying. “While I admit I was in the vicinity at the time, I was merely parsing by!”
“Any more jokes like that and we’ll have to charge you a syntax in punishment,” quipped a quirky quote.
“Whoever ravished the pause should get at least six of the very best,” remarked the superlative loftily.
“I’m sure GUILTY is guilty,” ACCUSATION asserted.
“What, you’re accusing an adjective?” protested GUILTY. “Remember, without us adjectives you nouns would hardly ever be qualified for anything. I agree with MATING that a noun was responsible. Now, nouns, which of you budding Casanovas did it?”
“Please,” said DIGNITY, “don’t accuse any abstract noun of direct physical action. And for your information, GUILTY, CASANOVA is a very proper noun and would never stoop so low.”
GUILTY thought for a moment then returned to the attack. “All right, then it must have been a common noun that did the dreadful deed. Someone like NEEDLE - he’s got plenty of penetration.”
“Certainly not,” objected the highly needled NEEDLE, blinking his eye in horror. “At the time of the event, I was on duty in the grammar school casualty unit: I was about to just very carefully and extremely skillfully stitch up a badly split infinitive. Look, perhaps a whole group of words was responsible for the rape, since none of the component parts seems individually guilty.”
“We can’t be blamed because we’re not wholly responsible for our own actions,” claimed a dependent clause.
“And we only act under our superior’s orders,” added a subordinate clause. “Anyway, it’s no good trying to punish me when I’m serving a very long sentence already. I know - perhaps it was a figure of speech that impregnated the pause.”
“That’s not like us,” said a simpering simile, “We’re as innocent as new-born babies, but I think there was figure of speech near the pause at the time. I was wondering what he metaphor there after dark.”
“You’re just telling a lie-to-tease,” chided the metaphor in a not ungentle voice. “That is a mountain of rubbish. My view is that a whole paragraph or even the page did it.”
“No it wasn’t the page,” said the binding. “Our little page is a wee bit queer, you know. Likes his vice-verso, if you see what I mean.”
“Did you do it yourself?” the chapter heading asked the binding. “We know how all-embracing you are.”
“Look, if none of us made the pause pregnant,” said the contents when the binding had pleaded innocent, “who did?”
“It could only have been the author,” the book spine said stiffly.
“The author?” gasped the punctuation marks, words, phrases, sentences and chapters. “Who the Hell’s the author? What right has any brutal outsider got to make our poor little pause pregnant?”
“Can’t I do what I like with you all?” asked the author, half-waking.
“No!” they bellowed back in unison.
There was a pregnant pause …
By Bernard Lamb. Copyright © Bernard Lamb.