THERE USED TO be something known to all readers as “Steinese.” Steinese was the peculiar literary idiom invented by Gertrude Stein around 1910 and made familiar to a large American public by her admirers and non-admirers alike. Gnomic, repetitive, illogical, sparsely punctuated, this idiom became a scandal and a delight, lending itself equally to derisory parody and fierce denunciation. It had a formidable currency in writing and conversation throughout the teens, twenties, and thirties. “A rose is a rose is a rose” and “Pigeons on the grass alas” were encountered as frequently-almost-as the “Yes we have no bananas,” a nonsense phrase-later a song-of popular origin which may actually have been inspired by Steinese. “My little sentences have gotten under their skins,” Gertrude Stein was at last able to say, with the pride of someone who craved recognition the more that she got mere notoriety. In other words, her little sentences, originally quoted in scorn, had come in time to be repeated from something like affection; and thus the very theory that underlay her technique of reiteration was proved: what people loved they repeated, and what people repeated they loved.
About the Author