Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 1, 2021

I Write What I Post. I Post What I Write.

The title of today’s post suggests several topics for consideration. One is the importance of word order in English. Since we have few inflectional endings to indicate how a word is being used, the position of a word in an English sentence is often the only way to know if it’s the subject, direct object, indirect object, etc.

Yes, action has primacy, so I may wish to place greater importance on whether I’m writing or posting, but — aside from some relatively arcane differentiations — the net effect is about the same: However I state it, I write things and post them here on the blog. Rhetoricians may debate some deep, underlying difference between the two clauses, but they both wash out to about the same color.

Typically, interchanging subject with object radically changes the meaning of an English sentence.

“Dog bites man” is different from “Man bites dog” in significant ways.

Only one merits newspaper headlines.

We don’t have to change the form of nouns when they change functions in English, unlike most of the world’s languages. And that’s where the fun is.

As today’s blog post title demonstrates, that’s not always such a clear-cut matter.

This came to mind recently as we shopped at one of the local organic farmers’ markets that are a fixture in Los Angeles.

At the Farmers Market

Local organic farmers markets are a longtime fixture in innumerable locations across Los Angeles County and across California. Situated in parking lots, along city streets, they feature produce and other goods from certified organic farms. These are often family-operated farms, sometimes representing generations of farmers. They load up trucks in Bakersfield, Fresno, Riverside and the far corners of the Central Valley, and set out long before dawn, bound for Los Angeles, often seven days a week.

Note: The photos above were shot in 2019, hence the lack of face masks, which are now de rigeur.

The farms at these markets offer an impressive array of produce that one never finds in any grocery store, and the people in the booths can tell you an impressive amount of lore about any of the fruits and vegetables there — some of which are things I had never seen, growing up in the Midwest. To my knowledge, we did not have watermelon radishes in Ohio, nor did we shop for daikon or Persian cucumbers at the local Kroger store. Okra? Nope.

The Theme

All the booths proudly display the names of their farms, often touting how many generations they’ve been farming.

And one phrase — or, rather, two iterations of the same idea — is ubiquitous.

Below, one version of that statement.

As you see, they sell what they grow.

You’re ahead of me. You already know what’s next. An equal number of those banners have the same thought, flipped around.

At one booth featuring artisanal cheese, they manage to hew to today’s theme, with a simple verb substitution.

There was, I trust, some long, intensive discussion around the family dinner table, generations of cheese-makers pondering that existential question: “Do we make what we sell, or sell what we make?”

That Is the Question

Does one live to eat, or eat to live? Do we reap what we sow or sow what we reap? Does it matter?

I actually have an opinion about whether one should say one grows what one sells or sells what one grows. There is — if one dares wander into the senior faculty lounge and ask the rhetoricians (never go there, rhetoricians make terrible coffee) — a difference.

What do you think? Sell what you grow or grow what you sell? Please leave a comment. And let me know if you have a killer recipe for all this okra I bought. I already know how to pickle it, which is the only way I’ve ever found it edible.

Click on this link for a list of certified organic farmers markets in Los Angeles.

Copyright Brad Nixon 2021.


Responses

  1. This required some thought. I’ve decided that, at the farmers’ markets, “sell what we grow” would be my choice. “Grow what we sell” carries a faint whiff of tips for increasing the customer base or finding the next, greatest marketing strategy.

    Of course, you also can find spinach at farmers’ markets, and the thought of spinach evokes that wholly reversible phrase: Popeye’s “I yam what I yam.”
    As it happens, one of my favorite dishes involves sweet potatoes and spinach, with some onion thrown in for good measure.

    But the okra? I’ll pass on that. Pickled or deep fried is fine, but I’d never cook it myself unless the supply chain for broccoli and zucchini dries up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, and thanks for the comment. The Counselor and I are in accord with your opinion that the emphasis should be on growing, not selling.
      As for okra, I didn’t actually buy any. I got enough of it during one visit to New Orleans. I’d go for sweet potato and spinach, though.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Now I have to correct myself. Sorry. The Counselor and I disagree. We choose to have the emphasis on “grow,” not “sell.” I read carelessly, and apologize. Why I always needed to have an editor look at my stuff. I don’t think one or the other is right or wrong. It’s absolutely an interesting angle on how the language works.

      Like

    • Your spinach, sweet potato, onion dish sounds good. And I’m with you about cooking okra — with a world of beautiful, flavorful vegetables out there, it’s nowhere on my list.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My preference would be “We ONLY sell what we grow.” In other words, if we did not grow this ourselves, we would not be selling it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now, I like that. You should consider a career in business. Oh, wait …
      Thanks for the comment.

      Like

    • And, to your point, if you look closely at the green banner at the bottom of the first stack of photos, you’ll see that Smith Family Farms state “We sell only what we grow ….”
      You’re on to something.

      Like

      • And that then raises the question of where to place the word “only” in a sentence. Does THAT matter?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was, actually, going to comment on that, but restrained my inner grammar nerd. Now you have sown the wind, and reap the whirlwind.
        “Only” is an excellent example of how frustrating it is for non-native speakers to learn English.
        “Only” — and I know you’re aware of this, since you have the same English degree as I — can be either an adjective or an adverb.
        Since we have few inflectional forms of any words, yes: word order is everything here.
        To say, “We only sell X” modifies the verb. Saying “We sell only X” modifies the direct object.
        In the context of growing and selling organic produce, either construction washes out to about the same effect, or so I think.
        The PhD candidates over in the Rhetoric corner of the grad student lounge will be happy to take you back to early Stoic analysis of grammar and debate this with you. My advice is to ignore them. They’re accustomed to being ignored.
        We do have a technically adverbial sense of “only” that’s probably only accessible to native speakers, as in “I’m only joking,” but the same rule applies. That’s different than “I’m joking only about X,” and there are probably some number of graduate dissertations examining the structural differences between those two statements.
        Which is why I steered clear of the Rhetoric kids.

        Like

  3. Placing the emphasis on growing is my preference. To me, it best communicates that the seller isn’t a purveyor of goods produced by others.

    Apparently, from your photos of the signs, one seller couldn’t decide which phrase to use, so made signs with both, one with graphics and one with just text — See Ken’s Top Notch Produce (full name cut off in top photo of first signs).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you.

      Like

    • I agree with that analysis. “We sell what we grow” leaves open the inference that the vendor may sell additional products the vendor does not grow.

      Like

  4. Ok so I’m an art director so words and spelling are a second language to me.
    I prefer “We grow what we sell.” Because somehow that communicates the order in which it happens. Which just “feels” right. Grammatical rules be damned.
    Orca. Fried. I would send you my grandma’s recipe but you & I may be gone before I find it.
    Thanks for keeping the grammar police strong.

    Like

    • Thanks for weighing in.
      I can see the challenge for your art staff: You break it down:
      We grow … We sell. Now you have to visualize those two things.
      I’ve worked with enough art directors to know the game ain’t all that simple.
      And I’m probably not going to fry okra, but let me know if you find your grandmother’s recipe, and tell me what she had to say about growing up in another era.

      Like


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