film

True Grit: Contraction-Free Zone

Diction was apparently important in the wild west, at least if you believe the Coen brothers whose latest film True Grit envisions a world in which people of every station enunciate like Shakespearian actors. It is an odd feature for a western. I found it so strange in fact, that I actually started laughing during many of the dramatic scenes. “We have no rodeo clowns in Yell County.” As I was leaving the theatre, I asked my dad if he had noticed anything odd about it. Without pausing, he replied, “there were no contractions.”

As it turns out, this was the Coen’s intent. In a recent Newsweek interview, the pair confirmed that they wanted their characters to avoid contractions when speaking.

Q: DID PEOPLE ACTUALLY NOT TALK WITH CONTRACTIONS AT THAT TIME?

ETHAN: We’ve been told that the language and all that formality is faithful to how people talked in the period.

An outstanding analysis on 19th century speaking habits can be found at the following link with explicit discussion on this film and the novel on which it is based. The consensus? It does not bode well for Joel and Ethan…

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2873

Now for more spoilers. Because that is what I do.

If you have an issue with being covered by a nest of rattlesnakes, you should probably should exit the theatre before the third act gets underway. Poor girl. And poor horse. Heck, poor snakes.

(The following blog post was contraction-free. Future posts will be rife with apostrophes).

3 Comments

  • Tim

    Its a movie not a documentary!!! The lack of contradictions made me lose my concentration of the storyline… I was actually disappointed and pissed when I heard them. There is (there’s) a point where historical facts have to give way to modern realities. MAJOR Cohen brothers fail!

  • Windy

    I had assumed from the get-go that the lack of contractions was not an accurate reflection of the times. I liked it, though. It gave… flavor to the dialog. Since a lack of contractions codes a formality and seriousness, it added something to the humorous lines. For instance, I think it made Chaney’s surprise at being shot even funnier.

    I don’t really see why anyone would find it distracting or annoying, unless they’re taking a prescriptive approach to advocating for contractions in everyday speech. (No one need do this, spoken contractions won’t be going anywhere.)

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