The analysis of the passage Neat People vs. Sloppy People
(外文学院 02 级 2 班 王思 020214214)
Abstract: Suzanne Britt’s work Neat People vs. Sloppy People is a passage of comparison. In this
passage, Britt distinguishes neat people from sloppy people in the moral aspect. She used kinds of
figures of speech such as paradox, hyperbole, metaphor and so on in the description and comparison,
making her work so distinguished.
Key words: neat people, sloppy people
Ⅰ.Brief account of the author
Assistant Professor of English. A.B. Salem College; A.M. Washington University. Ms.
Britt teaches literature and writing courses. Her poems have appeared in literary magazines
such as Denver Quarterly, Lake Superior Review, Greensboro Review, and Southern Poetry
Review. Her essays and articles have appeared in various newspapers and magazines,
including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, Newsweek, the New York
Times, Books & Religion, the Boston Globe, Newsday, and the Miami Herald. She is the
author of several books, including Skinny People Are Dull and Crunchy Like Carrots (now
out of print), Show and Tell (Morning Owl Press), A Writer's Rhetoric (Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich), and Images: A Centennial Journey (Meredith College Press). Her essays have
been widely reprinted in college textbooks both in the United States and Canada. She now
writes regularly for the Authors Ink and has completed a novel. (Jackson)
Ⅱ. Brief account of this passage
This passage of comparison is organized in the subject-by-subject pattern. The author first
discussed the sloppy people fully, and then turns to the discussion of the neat people. From the
title Neat People vs. Sloppy People the readers can already get the main idea of this passage: the
comparison between neat people and sloppy people.
“Neat people” and “sloppy people” are a pair of antonyms, so it seems that there is no need to
compare, but the author does the comparison from the aspect of morality, which is the difference
between neat people and sloppy people. This idea is so special as to attract the readers’
Ⅲ. Brief account of the theme of this passage
In Suzanne Britt’s essay Neat People vs. Sloppy People, she carefully and humorously
compares the two kinds of individuals. In her opinion, the variation was not merely the differences
in preferences in cleanliness, but in morality. She states, “Neat people are lazier and meaner than
sloppy people”. This is a bold statement, assuming that all neat people are lazy and mean, when
some may beg to differ. Others consider sloppy people to be the lazy ones. (No author, no date)
(please elaborate the purpose of the author in his writing of this passage and the theme)
Ⅳ. Linguistic presentation of the theme
A. Lexical features
While talking about the sloppy people, the author uses a series of adjectives: heavenly,
precise, great, perfect, noble and so on. These adjectives seem to be commendatory words, but
used here, they create a kind of sarcastic. For the vision and the plan are so great that they couldn’t
be achieved now or in the future, let alone the sloppy people who just carry them in mind.
b. Verbs and verb phrases
The verbs: drop, pile up, accumulate, buried and threaten make the description more vivid.
The two verbs “drop” and “pile up” cause some kind of contrast, which makes the examples more
impressive. And the words “buried” and “threaten” are in fact a kind of personification, making
the description more interesting and vivid. According to the verbs, we can imagine how the sloppy
people “saying is one thing, doing is another thing”. It is much easier to say than to do. Therefore,
it becomes quite easy for us to understand how sloppy people become careless and untidy.
The verb phrase “toy with the idea” means considering the idea idly or without serious intent.
Here, the characteristics of sloppy people are presented to the readers. Because what they toy with
are not only objects, but also their own children, just to cut down on the clutter. It is so surprising
and interesting, and in fact, irony. The verb “throw” is used also for this effect. It gives us a strong
sense of powerful action.
In the eighth paragraph, two numbers are used to describe neat people: “two-pound” and
“7:05 A. M.” These two extract figures make the evidence more convincing, though it is in fact
B. Syntactic features
The third paragraph is composed of five sentences beginning with the noun “someday”. The
use of parallelism makes this paragraph seem to be tidy and rhythmical. In these five parallel
sentences, the word “someday” is emphasized. Since “someday” suggests a sense of uncertain, so
are the examples listed by the author, which the sloppy people would do in the future, but quite
unlikely to be done. This is a kind of sarcastic. Other examples, such as the sentence “it’s got to go
and that’s that” also suggest parallelism. While talking about the sloppy people, the author uses a
series of adjectives: heavenly, precise, great, perfect, noble and so on. These adjectives seem to be
commendatory words, but used here, they create a kind of sarcastic.
C. Semantic features/figures of speech
Statement or sentiment that appears contradictory to common sense yet is true in fact.
“Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people.” “Sloppy people, you see, are not
really sloppy.” Neat people are those who liking to keep order and do things carefully and people
who are tidy. But according to the author, neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people,
who are careless and untidy in dress, or in the way he does things, which is quite contradictory to
our common sense. And “sloppy people are not really sloppy” seems to be self-contradictory.
These two sentences arouse readers’ curiosity. Why, they may ask, the author said so? And the
curiosity arouses their interest in reading the following part of the passage.
Form of inordinate exaggeration according to which a person or thing is depicted as being
better or worse, or larger or smaller, than is actually the case.
We can find the use of hyperbole in the sentence “the unread magazines threaten to reach the
ceiling”. From this sentence, we can imagine the large number of the unread magazines, so many
which even piles up to the height that reaches the ceiling. Then it is not difficult for us to
understand the sloppy of the sloppy people.
Use of word or phrase denoting one kind of idea or object in place of another word or phrase
for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two.
“Everything is just another dust-catcher to them.” For the neat people, so far as things are not
of present use or may cause trouble to be looked after, they are dust-catchers to them. Their
possessions, including family heirlooms and even their own children may be considered to be
dust-catchers and therefore to be thrown out of house or into the trash can. It is a kind of humours,
but at the same time, a kind of irony.
From the analysis, we can see that the adjectives, verb phrases and kinds of figures of
speech all work to make this great creation. The author’s humoris embodied in her very
ability of using languages, which are quite proper but sharp. Some kind of criticism, sarcasm
and irony can be found in her humor. In this way, the moraldifferencebetween neat people and
sloppy people become clearly to the readers.
1. Jackson, http://www.meredith.edu/english/faculty.htm
2. no author, no date
Neat People vs. Sloppy People
I’ve finally figured out the difference between neat people and sloppy people. The
distinction is, as always, moral. Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people.
Sloppy people, you see, are not really sloppy. Their sloppiness is merely the unfortunate
consequence of their extreme moral principle. Sloppy people carry in their mind’s eye a heavenly
vision, a precise plan, that is so great, so perfect, it can’t be achieved in this world or the next.
Sloppy people live in Never- Never Land. Someday, or the future, is their metier. Someday
they are planning to alphabetize all their books and set up home catalogs. Someday they will go
through their wardrobes certain items for tentative mending and certain items for passing on to
relatives of similar shape and size. Someday sloppy people will make family scrapbooks into
which they will put newspaper clippings, postcards, locks of hair, and the dried corsage flowers
from their senior prom. Someday they will file everything on the surface of their desk, including
the cash receipts from coffee purchases at the snack shop. Someday they will sit down and read all
the back issues of The New Yorker.
For all these noble reasons and more, sloppy people never get neat. They aim too high and
wide. They save everything, planning someday to file, order, and straighten out the world. But
while these ambitious plans take clearer and clearer shape in their heads, the books spill from the
shelves onto the floor, the clothes pile up in the hamper and closet, the family mementos
accumulate in every drawer, the surface of the desk is buried under mounds of paper, and the
unread magazines threaten to reach the ceiling.
Neat people are bums and clods at heart. They have cavalier attitudes toward possessions,
including family heirlooms. Everything is just another dust-catcher to them. If anything collects
dust, it’s got to go and that’s that. Neat people will toy with the idea of throwing the children out
of the house just to cut down on the clutter.
Neat people don’t care about process. They like results. What they want to do is get the
whole thing over with so they can sit down and watch TV. Neat people operate on two unvarying
principles: Never handle any item twice, and throw everything away.
The only thing messy in a neat person’s house is the trash can. The minute something comes
to a neat person’s hand, he will look at it, try to decide if it has immediate use and, finding none,
throw it in the trash.
Neat people are no good to borrow from. Neat people buy everything in expensive little
single portions. They get their flour and sugar in two-pound bags. They wouldn’t consider clipping
a coupon, saving a leftover, reusing plastic nondairy whipped cream containers, or rinsing off tin
foil and draping it over the unmoldy dish drainer. You can never borrow a neat person’s newspaper
to see what’s playing at the movies. Neat people have the paper all wadded up and in the trash by
Neat people cause great damage in the organic as well as the inorganic world. People,
animals, and things are all one to them. They are so insensitive. After they’ve finished with the
pantry, the medicine cabinet, and the attic, they will throw out the red geranium (too many leaves),
sell the dog (too many fleas), and send the children off to boarding school (too many scuff-marks
on the hardwood floors).