Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Straiten Out Your Syntax

Posted by Neal on April 1, 2005

So I’m sitting here deciding which tracks to rip from a couple of George Strait CDs. I grab some of them because they’re so darn catchy. For example, I know that if I listen to “Fool-Hearted Memory,” I’m going to be whistling, singing, or hearing it run through my head for the next two days.* Even better are the ones that are good ear-candy with clever lyrics, too. The wordplay in this upbeat swing/two-step still cracks me up:

Like the Pony Express in the wild wild West
I’ll ride hard all night long.
I can saddle up fast, get you there first class,
Long before the dawn.
You know your mail’s gonna get to you
come snow, rain, sleet, or hail
‘Cause I’m a top-flight, hold-you-tight, get-you-there-by-daylight,
do-you-right overnight male.

But what to make of the song “Blue Clear Sky“? Yes, that’s right, “blue clear,” not “clear blue.” Any native English speaker knows you can’t do that, separating a color adjective from the noun it modifies. Doug and Adam never let me get away with Clifford the Red Big Dog when I’m reading to them (or for that matter, the Bad Big Wolf). The songwriter must have had a reason for doing this. Maybe he (or she) is rhyming it with nuclear somewhere. Not a perfect rhyme, but clever enough to score a few points. But, as it happens, there is no blue clear / nuclear rhyme in the song. The phrase mainly shows up in the chorus:

Here she comes, a walkin’ talkin’ true love,
Sayin’ I’ve been lookin’ for you, love.
Surprise! Your new love has arrived
Out of a blue clear sky.

No excuse! Blue and clear could easily be switched with no effect on either the rhyme or the meter. And every time I listen to the song, that blue clear business is going to catch me. The tune had better be a good one in order to outweigh that little bit of annoyance that’s going to come with every listen.

Sorry, “Blue Clear Sky.” You don’t make the cut.

*Hey, did you catch my “Friends in Low Places” coordination in that sentence?

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4 Responses to “Straiten Out Your Syntax”

  1. Anonymous said

    Apparently George Strait did have a reason for going with “Blue, clear sky”, but I can’t find a transcript of it online. CMT (Country Music Television) apparently has a video on their website wherein he explains his reasoning, but I can’t get it to display on my computer.

    Jason B.–>

  2. desert woman said

    “blue clear sky” is a phrase out of Forest Gump that caught the attention of the songwriters. Strait asked them about changing it, they declined. see theCD “laugh” by songwriter Bob DiPiero.

  3. Neal said

    Thank you, desert woman, for clearing up this mystery. I haven’t checked your particular reference, but the dates work: FG released in 1994, “Blue Clear Sky” in 1996, and plenty of online confirmation of that phrase in the FG script.

  4. kevin said

    here’s a reference: Bob DiPiero Reveals the Story Behind “Blue Clear Sky”. it sounds like he was also going for a pun on “out of the blue”

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