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  • John M Donovan

Overthinking Things

Back when I was attending Wabash College, English majors like me had to take three semesters of classes from the math and science department. I wasn't looking forward to any of them, but fortunately the school offered Physical Science 1 and 2, essentially the rudiments of physics and chemistry for us humanities types.

Among the giants of physics we covered in that first semester was Tycho Brahe, a 16th-century Danish nobleman whose observations of planetary movements were considered exponentially more accurate than those available at the time. What I found even more interesting about Brahe was that he wore a prosthetic nose made of brass, having lost his original schnoz in a duel with his cousin.

Along came the midterm exam, and I was every bit as prepared as anyone else who was depending on his attendance points to keep him from flunking. At the end of the test, though, was a bonus question: "Why wouldn't Tycho Brahe have made a good reporter for The Bachelor [the college newspaper]?"

Holy cow, I thought--free points! I can earn two points just for knowing the punch line to this joke!

But then I started overthinking it. The professor hadn't struck me as someone who would just give away points like that. Maybe he had a beef with the school paper. Maybe he'd been misquoted. Maybe he hated the editor and thought the whole thing was a joke. I thought of writing "Tycho Brahe wouldn't have been a good reporter for The Bachelor because he was a stickler for accuracy," but that didn't make sense--I mean, what newspaper wouldn't want an accurate reporter? I ended up saying something along the lines of "Tycho Brahe wouldn't have been a good reporter for The Bachelor because his painstaking quest for accuracy would have resulted in countless missed deadlines."

There. That made sense and it showed that I knew a thing or two about Tycho Brahe.

But then of course I hedged my bet and added "And because he didn't have a nose for news." One of those answers got me my two free points.

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Let’s talk about appositives.* To be more specific, let’s talk about appositives and why the hell so many “writers” in the fields of PR and journalism don’t know how to punctuate them. (Uh-oh. He put