My greatest, most heinous crime, according to Word’s spellchecker, is starting sentences with the word “but”.
I’ve been proof reading the latest draft (Final draft? Ha ha ha. Hysterical laughter. Who knows. Could Be.) of my novel Blackwatertown. The spell checker does not like my colloquialisms, Ulster dialect vocabulary or my “ands”. We argue most frequently over my tendency to start sentences with “but”. The thing is, sometimes “however” just doesn’t cut it.
Doesn’t – that’s (or should I say, that is) another thing it hates. Abbreviations. To which I answer: Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
What does “but” signify? Excitement, surprise, radical change, a hairpin bend, a switchback, a light step, confusion, uncertainty, drama.
“However”, m’lud, speaks of the stilted stentorian speechifying of the courtroom. It’s – sorry – it is studied, predictable, predicted, slow-moving, ponderous.
Moe: Hello, Moe’s Travern- birthplace of the Rob Roy.
Bart: Is Seymour there? Last name, Butts.
Moe: Just a sec. (calling out) Hey, is there a Butts here? Seymour Butts? Hey, everybody, I wanna Seymour Butts.
Moe (catching on): Hey, wait a minute. Listen, you little scum-sucking pus-bucket. When I get my hands on you, I’m gonna pull out your eyeballs with a corkscrew.
Anyway, by rights of cultural heritage, I should be ending sentences with but. You know what I mean like but? How would you like that spellchecker?
In Belfast, the word “but” has extra-dictionary duties. It’s standard punctuation to mark the end of a phrase or sentence. It conveys the added message that whatever fact has been conveyed, we all know how little reliance can be placed on official truth. Boiled down to its simplest, you have the phrases “Yes but” and “No but”. It becomes unconscious after a while.
So houl’ yer whisht spellchecker, and let me get on with it.
(Whew. That was difficult. See what I did there? I didn’t start any sentence with “but”. But I’m exhausted now. Know what I mean like but?)