Lessons in grammar never go to waste

A lesson I learned years ago helped me spot the error in this suggested headline from a writer:

The ice maker doesn’t always cometh.

A columnist had written about finicky refrigerator ice makers, and he offered an allusion to Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” for a head. But as someone (I think it was a fellow editor, but it might have been a reader) called to my attention once, cometh was the third person singular in early 17th century English (the time of Shakespeare and King James). It is analogous to comes in 21st century English.

To make the head grammatically correct, it should read: The ice maker doesn’t always come. That doesn’t preserve the allusion, though, and sounds confusing. I have written The ice maker cometh with a lot of hassles, hoping that the juxtaposition of the 17th century verb and the more current-sounding hassles will make the head stand out. My headline is also more direct in its allusion and in its summary of the column.

You can read about changes in grammar during Shakespeare time in a excerpt from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature and on this website titled Shakespeare’s Grammar. You never know when you might need a bit of knowledge about 17th century grammar.