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The Sandwich Spread Elements of Style (example)

In July 1959, researchers in the Kraft Division of Spreads and Sauces painstakingly disassembled Charles Chapman's "Miracle Whip," the prototype emulsifying contraption James Kraft purchased from the inventor in 1931. Miracle WhipThey undertook the deconstruction of the machine because they sought to understand more deeply the machine's inner workings. The popularity of the alternative mayonnaise known as Miracle Whip meant many other companies were developing competitive sandwich spreads: spiced mayos, plum jams, onion ketchups, flavored vinegars, and horseradish mustards. Senior members of the Kraft family exerted great pressure on the research and development scientists to keep Miracle Whip out in front. With their livelihoods on the line, the anxious researchers gathered wrenches, socket sets, precision-tuned metric rulers, and related implements, and proceeded as cautiously as surgeons to unpick the Great Machine, one element at a time.

Many weeks spent working under cover of night passed before the team reached an inner chamber, a tin compartment that did not seem to be tied in with the machine's intricate plumbing. When they tapped it, the compartment emitted only a dull thud. The din sounded muffled, like something was lodged inside. After systematically eliminating all other options for gaining access, they cut through the lid. Inside they found a curious, unexpected little book: The Sandwich Spread Elements of Style by Virgil Chapman, Charles's twin brother. The book detailed Virgil's grand vision for a line-up of sandwich spreads so magnificent it would redefine human culture. Virgil prophesied that one day "language, life, and sandwich spreads" would themselves become an emulsification so thick, rich, and flavorful that style would not be a "a sauce by which a dull [bread] is made palatable," but it would be integral, a "nondetachable, unfilterable" Spread for the Ages (Strunk and White 68). Below are selections from Virgil's curious monograph.

I. Elementary Rules of Usage

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

James Kraft, Charles Chapman, and Virgil Chapman
mayonnaise, mustard, and Miracle Whip
Spreads are the mind, heart, and soul of unforgettable sandwich food.

In each of the examples shown above, the comma is known as a "serial" comma. The serial comma appears frequently in writing about sandwich spreads because they are profound. Solitary terms are inadequate to describe them.

8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.

We set out to convene a flavor profile unlike any before it—one with zip and tang—and ended up stumbling onto a miraculous recipe.

"Whip" foods—Cool Whip, Dream Whip, and Miracle Whip—are airily and inextricably woven into the American culinary moire. Only a few have failed miserably—Applesauce Whip, on shelves briefly after the record-setting apple harvest of 1938, and Peppercorn Chicken Gravy Whip, served overflowing in styrofoam cups at an Ypsilanti, Mich., chicken-themed drive-in briefly in 1949.

11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

After being mixed, in some cases simmered, and then cooled, customers purchase mustard from grocery stores. After being mixed, in some cases simmered, and then cooled, mustard flows into jars and ships to grocery stores.

In the example on the left, the participial phrase refers to customers; however, because customers are not themselves being mixed, simmered, and cooled, the sentence creates an illogical relationship between the phrase and the subject. The version on the right rectifies this problem by incorporating a grammatical subject (mustard) logically consistent with the actions identified in the phrase. (Sample sentence adapted from "Mustard: The History of a Condiment")

II. Elementary Principles of Composition

19. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

We will not be quiet.
We will not try to blend in, disappear in the background, play second fiddle.
We will not be quiet.
We will not try to blend in.
We will not disappear in the background.
We will not play second fiddle.

In the above example, the similar form is implied. Perhaps this is acceptable when the plural pronoun "we" is identified with a sandwich spread. In other cases, express the similar form explicitly, as it appears on the right.

22. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Are those burgers worthy of your taste buds?
Well, I um...
Worthy they are not!
Are those burgers worthy of your taste buds?
Well, I um...
They are not worthy!

III. A Few Matters of Form


Reserve exclamation points for authentic moments of horror or surprise, not for ordinary, everyday discoveries.

See, it was just a bad dream. There's plenty of ahhh! See, it was just a bad dream. There's plenty of ahhh.

Recipe measurementsMiracle Whip
Do not abide strictly by recipe measurements for Miracle Whip. When a recipe calls for one-quarter cup of Miracle Whip, you will assuredly improve the quality of the dish by doubling the quantity. Don't forget the light, airy composition of this one of a kind salad dressing, which makes it a flexible addition to almost any dish.

IV. Words and Expressions Commonly Misused

A dense, lumpy substitute to which the designation "mayonnaise" only loosely applies.

Never affix -wise to the end of a word in an attempt to make it signify "as concerns" or to make it a more expansive noun. For example, Calorie-wise must not be understood as a marketing hook meaning "as concerns calories," but as a hyphenated noun, joining together the concept of caloric awareness with the wisdom reflected in a sandwich- or salad-eater's decision to enjoy foods enhanced with Miracle Whip. Calorie-wise: a type of food intelligence.

Nauseous. Nauseated.
These terms can be used interchangeably when 1) flecks of green, black, or blue-grey mold appear anywhere inside a jar of refrigerated sandwich spread and 2) when you realize, while eating a sandwich, that the "Best if used before" date passed last month.

V. An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders)

13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.

This principle is especially applicable to dialogue, but it is also needed when you introduce a non-human subject or agent in a sentence. In such cases of casual personification, objects and things have a capacity to act; however, these identifications can confuse rational readers who expect a human subject because of pronoun references.

We are our own one of a kind unique flavor.
We are Miracle Whip, and we will not tone it down.
Miracle Whip offers its own one of a kind unique flavor.
We are Miracle Whip, and we will not tone it down.

18. Use figures of speech sparingly.
18a. When you use figures of speech, refrain from excessive explanation.

Just like too much tomato catsup on a hot dog masks the refined flavors of mustard and pickle relish, too much explanation of a figure of speech can diminish its impact and create an otherwise unpleasant experience for the reader.

Don't go unnoticed.
Don't blend in.
Don't be ordinary, boring, or bland.
In other words, don't be so mayo.
Don't be so mayo.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of Composition
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Spring 2020 Office Hours: T, 12-3
Phone: +1-734-985-0485

"Neither The Elements of Style nor any other style book can be the definitive text on writing in every genre or media." —ENGL328 student, Fall 2009

"We concentrate on utility at the expense of joie de vivre. And we then wonder, as de Tocqueville prophesied we would, why life has lost its savor" (19). —Richard Lanham, Style: An Anti-textbook

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