Rumble Tumble stumble

This guy Leonard knew sold cold guns was named Haskel Ward.

Did this line wrongfoot you? More than once?

It’s a great example of a garden path sentence, and one with multiple paths. It appears at the beginning of chapter 7 in Joe R. Lansdale’s novel Rumble Tumble, which I’m reading at the moment.

It boils down to “This guy was named X.” Inserting a relative pronoun or two —

This guy [who] Leonard knew [who] sold cold guns was named Haskel Ward.

— clarifies the syntax, but robs the line of its charm and of the narrator’s distinctive voice.

Grammatically what this is is a subject contact clause. As my shows shows, these are quite common in Irish English and also some US dialects.

Dinosaur Comics, 25 November 2003

(If you’re a regular visitor here, you might remember seeing Rumble Tumble in this bookmash, where I found another use for its rhyming reduplication.)

11 Responses to Rumble Tumble stumble

  1. Dw says:

    Insertion of the second “who” changes the meaning of the sentence.

  2. Stan says:

    As I interpret it, Dw, Leonard knows a guy who sells guns; the point isn’t that he knows that the guy sells guns. So I think both whos are implied, and removing the second one changes the meaning. Or have I misread you?

  3. Z. D. Smith says:

    Nevertheless, in Dw’s reading it’s a garden path sentence; in your reading it’s simply non-standard. If your read meaning is the right one, that second ‘who’ is obligatory.

  4. Stan says:

    Z. D.: Looking at it again, that makes sense. (Long day here!) Disregard my previous comment, and the second who.

  5. Marc Leavitt says:

    I would understand it as follows; “This guy Leonard knew sold cold guns, was named Haskel Ward.”

  6. Stan says:

    Marc: A comma there causes problems for me, because the pause it introduces could give the “sold cold guns” clause equal weight to “was named H.W.”; the first of these needs to be unambiguously a supplementary relative.

  7. Sean Jeating says:

    Hm, giving the dilettant a try:
    This guy Leonard knew that who sold cold guns was named Haskel Ward.

    … and off he goes hiding under the rocks of Seanhenge.

  8. wisewebwoman says:

    Oddly enough, considering my – ahem – seniority I have no trouble with the sentence and would put it down to the charming idiom of the writer. Very distinctive voice.
    (I’ve taken (and given) enough writers’ workshops, perhaps?)

  9. Stan says:

    Sean: I don’t think that’s what was meant, but you can come out from under the rocks — I promise I won’t shoot.

    WWW: Prior exposure to the dialect (or similar speech patterns) would definitely make it more transparent. It’s a fun story, but I think I’m enjoying the narrative voice even more.

  10. The Ridger says:

    I think it’s “This guy (Leonard knew that he sold cold guns) was named Haskel”, so your first “who” seems like a “that” to me:

    This guy [that] Leonard knew sold cold guns was named Haskel Ward.

    But it’s a lovely garden path!

  11. Stan says:

    Yes, I think that works better there, Karen. I left it out of the post to avoid unnecessary complication, but this was probably a mistake. And you’re right: it is a lovely path!

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