In the syntax fields, a whimsical fiction

We set out at the crack of noon.

Armed with nets and collecting bottles, we headed for the syntax fields to see what specimens, common or rare, we could identify. My guide, Jesperson, had grown up in the prose thickets and knew every niche.


Once we left the path, the ground was littered with their for there, it’s for its, and other detritus, hardly to be considered game worth troubling over.

“You should expect to see a lot of that,” Jesperson said. “There’s seldom anything out of the ordinary.”


“But what’s that?” I asked, pointing.

Jesperson stopped short.

“That’s a jawn,” he said. “It’s native to Philadelphia, where it can mean nearly anything, and I’ve never seen it this far out of its range.”

He deftly scooped it up in his net and dropped it into a collection bottle. “We will need to monitor it, in case it might turn out to be an invasive species.”

We moved on.

On the bank of a little stream comprises and composes were entwined and entangled. “Don’t step in that,” Jesperson said.

Just beyond, we spotted this specimen: The group included more than 100 informants whom CIA officials concluded had been implicated in major crimes abroad.

“That’s False Whom,” Jesperson said, “and you have to watch out for it, because it propagates readily and tends to crowd out the True Who.”

Next we entered a copse, and there, hanging from a limb, was Confined five days in a psychiatric ward, his doctors decided he was stable enough to return to college.

“Yeah, a Participial Dangler,” Jesperson said. “They’re like ivy; they’ll grow all over sentences and eventually strangle them.”

The sun had burned off all the morning coolness when we reached another rivulet, and there, on its bank, was The superheroes band together to save the world from a hoard of aliens.

“I know that one,” I said. “It’s the Hoard-Horde Homonym, genus Confusio.”


“Correct,” Jesperson said. “That genus is one of the most widespread in the whole region.”

We forged on, and as we stepped into a little clearing, suddenly there was Prisoners of various camps reported torture, including verbal assaults, cigarette burnings, electric shock treatments, and daily briefings.

I stopped still, hardly daring to breathe.

Jesperson stepped beside me.

“It’s a Non-Periodical Paralellos corruptus, I whispered, “and it’s gorgeous.”

“Step up to it slowly,” Jesperson murmured. “You don’t want to spook it.”

I inched forward, pausing between each step, closer and closer, until I was within arm’s reach. It began to flutter, and I snatched it and flung it into my creel.

“Good show,” Jesperson said. “Let’s head back. This one you’re going to want to have mounted.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun