My husband Jesse and I were talking about Leviticus (the Quentin Tarantino chapter of the Bible) last night. We don’t spend much time musing about Leviticus (lest you think we are piouser than we are) but were discussing this letter from a gentleman sardonically applauding Dr. Laura’s use of Leviticus 18:22 to rebuke homosexuality. Naturally, we began inquiring into other modern applications of less referenced lines of the book.
After discussing our own Leviticus reflections (scariest band name, ever), we started re-imagining the Christian adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Jesse suggested, to comply with Leviticus, that we change it to, “Hate the sin, scorn the sinner?” We agreed this was too far from the spirit of the book. Leviticus is very specific (e.g., “How to Build an Altar in 1,347 Easy Steps”). And the truth is, it’s tough to read cubits allegorically, no matter how stoned you are.
I suggested, if we were going Full Monty, that we just go straight to “Love the sinner, hate the sin. Then smite the sinner. Usually to death.” Jesse piled on, “If a sinning sinner smites a loving sinner, that sinner should be smitten, also.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” I objected. “You can’t use ‘smitten’ like that. It’s probably ‘smited.’”
This seems like the right spot to give you some important information about my husband. He’s generally a very quiet, humble, quiet, introspective, quiet man. If he were to ever pen a book (say, to save a person’s life, or if that was the only way he could earn money, at all, ever again), it would be called, “Mastering Verbal Efficiency: When One Word Is Better Than Two.” (The title would be the longest sentence in the book.) It’s not that he’s shy; he’s not. Neither is he arrogant, typically. But, like all of us, there are areas of his interest that occupy his soul entirely, and fill him with such blind passion and complete immersion that he cannot be reasonable, and when pressed, he will be as irascible and ferocious as a hungover badger. Such is the case with the infinitesimal rules of language. He studied many languages, and speaks both Finnish and Swedish well. The discriminating observer might note how ironic it is for a person with such affinity for language to dislike its use so much. Well spotted, discriminating observer! That is fucked up! Where you or I might blissfully cruise past the occasional, soggy malapropism or improper verb conjugation, my husband halts all motor function while he carefully disassembles the grammatical monstrosity and reassembles it correctly, sometimes aloud, but often in the grim and machine-like recesses of his superior temporal gyrus.
So, when I objected to his use of the word “smitten,” my husband’s reaction was nearly fatal to him. His eyes twitched like a computer in bios mode, and he uttered a series of short sound bursts, which were evidently the first syllable of a series of fractious retorts: “Wuh! Buh! Fuh?” and so on, like he was a hundred haughty British men drinking port and straightening their cravats, farting righteousness into my puffy white face.
Jesse’s entire being contorted in a paroxysm of grammar, wave after wave of righteous indignation, filtered through the most enigmatic and exotic rules of language. “HUFF! HUUUUUFFFF! Participle. Future gerund, direct article! Past prefect Percy Weasley!” He said. I mean, that’s mostly what he said. Those are some of the words he said, anyway. Not in order, but it was clearly nonsense, so the exact sequence is irrelevant.
Now, because I will not be schooled on the proper use of words I use right all the fucking time, I continued, undeterred: “You can’t use ‘smitten’ like that! It’s got to be smited. Doesn’t that sound right? Smiiiited.” I drew the word out, while drawing an imaginary sword from an imaginary sheath in my yoga pants. “Smited. Feels right.”
Nothing makes a grammarian so inflamed as justifying your word choice by feel. So naturally, the gauntlet down, Jesse and I proceeded to fight-talk about the word “smite” for the next thirty minutes. Finally, my feelings about the word and his incoherent freestyle rap of esoteric grammar rules reached a draw: neither of us had more to say. We decided to defer to a third party.
Dictionary.com, while installing a shit ton of spyware, adware and voting for Republicans on my hard disk, defined the word thusly (NOTE: “thusly” is #7 on the top 25 list of words douchebags use, before “verbose,” and after mid-2000’s tabloid favorite “natch”):
verb (used with object), smote or (Obsolete) smit; smitten or smit; smiting.
I argued vociferously (#4) that the form smitten was never used in common parlance (#11) for any other reason than to describe romantic infatuation. “In fact,” I argued, while my husband continued to study the screen, “it is so saturated in romantic allusion that it’s become a word used to offer that romantic allusion to other, non-romantic scenarios, e.g., ‘The auditor was absolutely smitten with the new M-9 for exempt corporations.’ The auditor obviously was not entertaining delusions about nights rolling about in satin sheets, besmirching the integrity of the M-9s in question. He just thinks they’re super awesome, so the use of the word smitten is hyperbolic and demonstrative of the depth of his appreciation.”
“What did you say?” Jesse asked, raising his eyes from Dictionary.com.
“Fine. Use it in a sentence. In all the ways,” I responded.
Jesse quirked his eyebrows but obliged, ever willing to resoundingly, categorically win an argument.
“Sure. Let’s see. Present? Right now, I am smiting. In general, I smite. And in the future, I will be smiting at about three-thirty this afternoon, as opposed to, ‘I will smite you,’ which could happen anytime in the future.”
Since an object in motion prefers to continue talking about the grammatical correctness of obscure Old English words deployed in a modern lexicon, he continued, “The past participle is smitten. You can use that either way, actually. As an adjective, I might say, ‘I am a smitten man,’ meaning that I am a man smit by the power of romantic sensation I am experiencing. You might also use this as a passive verb in the past tense by saying, ‘He was smitten [by something].’ But I think you’d only use that one to mean something actually bonked him.”
I hate being wrong. I actually feel deeply uncomfortable when anyone is conspicuously wrong — even when I am morbidly overcharged for something (these are Red Delicious apples, not Asian Pears!) or debating actual ethics (the Bible is much less interested in homosexuality than the robes of the high priest!). It is awkward to me, on the subatomic level. All my electrons check their smartphones and my nuclei stare fastidiously at their shoelaces, praying for resolution. And I hate being wrong about words, because I love them. But I often am — particularly if the debate hinges on grammar or sentence structure. I’m almost always wrong, then. And I was certainly wrong about smitten. I smote incorrectly. I’m smiting wrong still. I am smitten with my misuse of the word, right this very moment.
I’m not usually on the “irregardless,” or “orientated,” team, believe me. But on this one, I am standing firm on my misuse until the wrong way becomes the right way. Levitican God as my witness, I’m never going to use it right. Gerund prefect participle be damned. I will smite with a nightstick, but if I get smitten, it will be by love.
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