EHS: The Amazening | Buzz Blog

EHS: The Amazening

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I'd never noticed East High School's weird slogan until today. As we drove past, there it was: a big, fancy screen-printed banner, as big as you please, with the words "East High School 'Where Amazing Happens.'"---

It's a curious and practically nonsensical phrase. Like Apple's old "Think Different" campaign, it requires the reader to execute a series of mental gymnastics to iron out the grammar. That campaign, you remember, drew criticism from militant defenders of the English language who, insisting that verbs are not nouns to be modified willy-nilly by adjectives, recommended "Think Differently."

Apple devotees leapt into action, claiming "different" was used as an adjectival noun and justifying the slogan not as a command to change one's own way of thinking but as an exhortation to "Think [about things that are] Different" or some damned thing like that. (Still, in that case, isn't human thought normally placed within quotation marks -- i.e., "Think 'Different'" -- or, if you're a popular novelist, set in italics?)

I'm as surprised as anyone to find I'm still steamed about this 13-year-old grammar travesty, but as it turned out, Henry Fowler's posse was no match for Steve Jobs' personality cult, and the campaign remained adverb-free until its death many years later.

As it turns out, "Where Amazing Happens" was used in a much-parodied campaign for the National Basketball Association a few years back. Of course, we can't hold the NBA to the same linguistic standards as, say, Oxford University. On the other hand, when we're talking about one of the best public schools in the state, we must try to make sense of the idea that "amazing" not only goes on within its hallowed halls, but with sufficient frequency to warrant a public declaration. In other words, once EHS got hold of it, its seemingly awkward grammar became intentional.

Now, if we were to play Mad Libs with the construction "Where [blank] Happens," we'd naturally expect to fill it in with a noun phrase such as "Education" or "the Filming of Disney Musicals So Terrible Rogers & Hammerstein Are Still Spinning in Their Graves."

My best guess is that "amazing" is being used as one of those tricky-dicky verbal nouns* -- but not in its most obvious sense as the class of all things that cause amazement (i.e., "Where [the] Amazing Happens"), else the definite article would not have been omitted.

The only thing I can think of is that "amazing" must be derived from the sense meaning the act of causing amazement -- e.g., if Miss Geats never tires of amazing [progressive verb] her AP English class by reenacting violent scenes from Beowulf, one might say she finds the act of amazing [verbal noun] her students to be an effective educational technique, and so there's a lot of amazing going on in that classroom.

So, really, it makes perfect sense: "East High School [Is] Where [a Substantial Amount of] Amazing Happens."

Note: I've learned that grammar criticism is a losing game -- it just invites people smarter than I to take out their red pens and prove my illiteracy -- so why not make a game of it? Let's just say I've surreptitiously hidden one or more grammatical errors in this blog entry. Can you spot them all?

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* After reading Geoffrey K. Pullam's Language Log entry, I've become afraid to use the term "gerund."

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