Shell Shocked: Cocktail chatter
Cocktail parties are usually fun. You get to meet old friends as well as new people. You engage in friendly conversations and are caught up in the news of the day.
But as we all know, occasionally certain subjects are brought up at cocktail parties that surprise you and keep you from joining in. Your concern is that you don’t want to wander into any discussion about a subject you know nothing about. And you certainly don’t want to get into a shouting match with your next door neighbor over politics.
But for the most part cocktail party conversations are generally lively and engaging when the subjects are about family, jobs, the home team and favorite restaurants.
On the other hand, some cocktail parties I’ve attended have turned out to be nightmarish. And the reason is that I wound up making the decision to join circles of guests who had become prisoners of useless cocktail chatter. At a recent cocktail party I attended, a group had gathered about an individual who was pontificating about the life and value of frogs.
“Frogs are more than just a pretty face and voice that our backyard ponds feature,” he was saying. “Frogs add to the diversity of species that our ponds support along with our fish, plants insects and other wildlife. They help create a more complete eco-system.”
I decided to complete my own eco-system by slipping away from this discussion of frogs and hightailing it to the bar for some straight climate control vodka. One sip and I forgot all about frogs.
I saw another group chatting in the corner and decided to join that one instead. And to my regret, one of the guests was lecturing the others on the subject of dangling participles.
“In academic writing, dangling participles can cause serious misunderstandings, which is why I dwell on them.
“Consider the following sentence: ‘After winning the Peloponnesian war, Athens was ruled briefly by the Spartans.’ By juxtaposing ‘winning’ and ‘Athens’ the sentence implies that Athens won that war, which is wrong. The Spartans won the war. The sentence should be rephrased so that the participle is closer to the Spartans than to Athens. Can anyone here rewrite the sentence and not use a participle?”
At this point the small group listening to the guru expounding on why the participle will dangle under certain mysterious circumstances dispersed quickly finding all sorts of excuses to regroup somewhere else. As for me since I already assisted in the goal of completing the eco-system by respecting the life style of frogs, I now went back to the bar with a new mission — to save the participle from extinction.
I was beginning to think that cocktail parties should become obsolete and join other vestigial organs we no longer use, like the appendix and tonsils. But I saw a lively group participating in an animated discussion about ten feet away. One more chance, I thought, just one more.
No one paid attention to me when I sauntered over to this new group. I heard one of the guests saying, “Yes, but there must be some differences between a brook and a stream.”
Another guest said: “Well, maybe it has to do with the length and width of the flow of water.”
Another said, “I think a brook babbles while a stream streams.”
Another said, “That makes no sense. It probably has something to do with the rapidity of the water flow, its current.”
Another guest said, “I think that brook is a synonym for stream and that they’re the same.”
I felt myself beginning to babble — or was it stream — and went straight back to the bar. Obviously, I was in the process of saving the earth from destroying itself. Frogs? Dangling participles? Streams and brooks? What’s happening to American cocktail parties? Don’t men gather to talk about women anymore?