Two weeks before the deadline for my new book, I keep hearing in my head a term I think made up: “I hit the decimal point.”
Its bones are kind of like “it shit the bed” or “he screwed the pooch,” just without the yuck factor.
The idea is that I was trucking along writing this book (it's about sentence writing), working at a fine clip, when suddenly I noticed that the the words "the end" seemed to be moving further away. With every hour I put into the project, completion was set back an hour.
I remembered I needed to further explain something about adverbs. I realized that I'd stumbled on a disparity in the linguistics world that I had to find a way to deal with. (Experts, it seems, use the term "participial phrase" for the same thing that others call a "participial clause." Geoff Pullum from Language Log was kind enough to write me back and explain that, basically, it's a matter of interpretation. Just he explained it better than that.) I realized that I needed a chapter on quotation attributions (something that hit me around the jillionth time I edited a certain writer's use of "enthused" as quotation attribution. "Our peppermint facials are very soothing," Jones enthused. Yuck.).
Anyway, "I hit the decimal point" seemed the only way to explain how I seemed to be getting infinitesimally closer to finishing -- but never done.
I've always wondered about how phrases get coined. I've always found it fascinating how, one day I hear a co-worker say, "You rock," then suddenly I'm hearing it everywhere I turn -- for twelve years and counting.
But, today, I think I've unlocked one secret of phrase coinage: In order to catch on, it has to be good.
Also, I hope I've unlocked the secret of how to apologize for being an AWOL blogger without resorting to the tedious blog opener "Sorry I haven't blogged in so long"). The secret: Bury the apology under a long story about how busy I've been.
(Sorry 'bout that.)