A prepositional proposition

Which part of speech do you gravitate toward? Do you speak in simple sentences and relish a short, punchy verb? Do you express life’s zest by searching for just the right string of adjectives? Do you like to keep your options open by extending your companion’s sentence with a conjunction and an independent clause?

Aren’t you dying to know what this may say about you?

The eight parts of speech have been rattling around in my head since I started my new career as an English teacher. Last year, I began to see that people exhibit (how to say this?) issues with different parts of speech. As I paid closer attention to what I was hearing, I began to see also that people’s fundamental outlooks on life may be reflected in the parts of speech they favor or stumble over. I haven’t developed a personality test yet that surpasses Mary Kay’s lipstick color test, but perhaps I approach that level of comprehensiveness and scientific rigor with my

Parts of Speech Personality Indicator (PoSPI)

The test: Go about your day wired for sound if you don’t already make this a practice. Ask subjects to speak clearly into your lapel or carnation. Spend several hours each night transcribing your tapes and circling patterns you find in parts of speech. Apply the following PoSPI matrix against your findings.

Nouns, whatever. Indicators: Nouns. There’s no avoiding nouns. Or at least there’s no avoiding the need for them. Some people can’t find them, though, and compensate with “doohickie” (regional), “whatchamacallit” (obsolete), or “what’s-her-name.” These people aren’t just having senior moments. They’ve been groping for nouns all their lives.

Personality: Nouns, whatever people gravitate toward complexity and theory. They can be absentminded, and may misplace objects as easily as they misplace the words that name the objects. They can be reserved but are apt to pontificate on any subject that interests them (and there are many) at the drop of a hat. Grasping for elusive nouns sometimes takes the bite out of their rhetorical flourishes, and their speech sometimes has an unintended comic effect. They are kind and sensitive people, overall, mindful of society’s expectations and usually outwardly compliant unless one of their core beliefs seems threatened.

Ante pronouns. Indicators: These people lose you. A hard-core ante pronoun type may lose you in his or her first sentence. (E.g., “She found it!”) If you’re close to someone like this, you become irritated and interruptive. (E.g., “Who found what?”) (“Ante” is an editing mark for an unclear pronoun reference – the pronoun’s antecedent is not apparent.)

Personality: Ante pronoun people love to talk but hate to write. They are concrete thinkers but not overly given to logic. They are pillars of the community and are often preoccupied with fairness and justice. My studies indicate that 97% of the population falls into this category, but this may be more the product of my imagination.

Verb people. Indicators: Verb people relish a punchy verb and a well-turned phrase. They favor simple sentences. Their profundity seems effortless. They have little use for adverbs or adjectives. To them, modifiers of any sort smack of obfuscation.

Personality: Verb people are born risk takers. They make great leaders but more often they are loners. Ulysses S. Grant and Ernest Hemmingway may have been verb people.

Adjective expressionists. Indicators: Adjective expressionists fill your face with their face and won’t let you go until you slow down with them long enough to take in every adjective they use to conjure up and catalog the current object of their fancy. Got it? You have to nod and slowly move for the door. A hard-core adjective expressionist will look at you quizzically between each adjective to see if you’re with him or her. You find yourself nodding and going “mmmm…mmm” just to move the adjective expressionist along, hoping you’re not committing yourself to any strange point of view in the process.

Personality: lots of it. Adjective expressionists are enthusiastic and extroverted. They often create a view of the world not entirely connected with reality, however, and so become somewhat difficult to live with.

Adverb people. Indicators: Adverb people use adverbs to recreate and mythologize people and events in a group’s mind. By choosing their adverbs carefully and pronouncing them deliberately, they help groups find meaning in seemingly everyday occurrences. For instance, an adverb person may turn a former secretary into an epic hero or a tragic figure by dint of his tale’s repetition. Adverb people give figures in their stories special nicknames that they use as advertisements for their full-blown epic version that they may favor you with when time and occasion permit. (Say you mention Ms. Summers. The adverb person stirs his coffee, arches an eyebrow and says, “You mean ‘Dr. Strangeglove?’” You’re free not to bite, but you know you’ll hear the story sooner or later.)

Personality: Adverb people make excellent raconteurs and are indispensable at parties. They become institutional memory, a company’s bard. You want to get in good with the adverb people if you want a positive legacy.

Prepositionists. Prepositionists favor prepositions. Prepositions speak of a cause-and-effect universe you can choose to function in or fall out of. Prepositions let you know things about the world, things you have to know to get along. Your job is to adjust, to understand your limitations, and to show as much individuality as conformity will permit. Your medicine fell under the table. You’re driving on the wrong side of the road. You came after your sister. That remark was over the top. (I borrowed most of this and most of my information on conjunctivites from my earlier post, “Unless and until.”)

Personality: Prepositionists are dutiful and moralistic. They need the assistance of a conjunctivite to broaden their outlook.

Conjunctivites. A conjunction is a grammatical contrivance evincing a far different human impulse than a preposition. Conjunctions put pieces of life together, and you have a lot of latitude there. Stick an “and” in for an “or,” and maybe you have two cookies instead of one. (My son, in fact, often holds up his index finger and says, with a slow detective-like voice, “Unless…”) Life is not preset. There are choices. You think you’ve finished a declarative sentence, but a conjunctivite may extend it, modify it, or annul it with a conjunction and a clause of some kind.

Personality: Conjunctivites have little to do with his or her society’s norms. Their thinking is as independent as some of their clauses. They seem destined for trouble but in the end change the world. They need a prepositionist (a sympathetic one, if possible) to keep them out of jail until they reach greatness.

Interjectionists. You may know an interjectionist for twenty years and still be fooled into thinking you’re having a conversation with him or her. While you are replying to a comment she makes, she suddenly says, “oh!” or “gosh!” and you realize she wasn’t listening to you at all. (Interjectionists really do listen to you, but your thoughts are heavily filtered by the time they are of any use to the interjectionist.) Something you didn’t say, or didn’t intend to say, may carry the day for an interjectionist. If you get strokes by how much you influence people, an interjectionist will be a constant irritant to you.

Personality: An interjectionist is unapologetically emotional and can’t abide people who hide their own emotions. They struggle with logic and live by revelation. They can be extremely insightful or extremely confused, often within the same minute.

The PoSPI, like most pain in life, also may be self-administered.


Posted August 2005