One last Parvum Opus before the year ends. I haven’t written one since July, but I haven’t been totally slack (see the end notes). Today we return to the usual sources of linguistic despair, eyebrow twitching, and smirks: Dave daBee is alert as always and shoots a lot of material my way, most often via Facebook now rather than e-mail. Let’s start with his finds. There are a lot but they were collected over half a year.
My wife has the most creative ways of unwittingly abusing the English language. Tonight she (earnestly) referred to "the Israeli peacefire."
Brilliant. Depending on your political slant, there’s more than one way to read that.
A cartoon about the Grammar Police: People, unless we maintain vigilance, the errorists will win.
Found headline: Meet Mars Rover’s MIT alumni team, brain in a dish
Where else would you put it? A pathologist friend of Dave’s said brains go in buckets.
Dave linked to a story about Ada Lovelace, Byron’s daughter, of all things and people, who was an early computer genius, called “the enchantress of numbers”. These “ess” female endings are now usually considered offensive, and Dave objected to my use of “programmeress” but I was just riffing off “enchantress”.
This is a little outside PO’s scope, but I include it to tip the hat to Dave daBee, who is also E-Patient Dave deBronkart, engaged in a great work to improve medical information access for patients all over the world. Being a tech guy too, he has tracked the rate/instances of web traffic for these terms, or “e-patient memes”:
· “patient empowerment”
· “patient engagement”
· “participatory medicine”
If you run across any of them, you will know Dave is probably lurking. He calls this “state of the meme.” His response to the uptick in instances of these terms and their searches is “Woot!” (I don’t think he means the web site of that name.)
One of my most satisfying discoveries this year was finding out from Bill Roberts what “looking strike” means. Sometime in the 1980s I taught English composition to Army sergeants at Fort Carson, Colorado, where we had a discussion about the new uniforms (BDUs, battle dress uniforms; now ACUs, Army Combat Uniforms) as a set-up for an essay topic (compare and contrast). The old Army uniforms were solid olive drab, as you may recall, and I believe were all cotton. The new ones were camo colors and made of special material, they told me, that couldn’t be seen by night-vision equipment, or something like that. So they were better uniforms for military purposes, although I believe the guys said they were hot. And you were not supposed to starch or press them because that compromised the special properties of the fabric. One soldier said he preferred the old ones because he liked to get his uniforms tailored and have them laundered, starched, and pressed with sharp creases, because he liked “looking strike,” at least that’s what I thought he said. And no, it’s not “looking striking” or anything like that. Recently the phrase came to mind again so I asked about it on Facebook, figuring there had to be some soldiers on my list who’d heard it. But I must have misheard the pronunciation. From “The return of STRAC”, sent to me by Bill Roberts:
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, writing about garrison life in the Strategic Army Corps (STRAC) in the early 1960s, said the acronym became Army slang for a well-organized, well turned-out soldier, but that style ended up overrunning substance.
Thanks, Bill. That’s one more neural pathway smoothed out.
I BE YOU BE DOOBY DOOBY DOOBY
Another linguistic puzzle was the short-lived* Ebonics fad. In Anne Coulter’s book Mugged (p. 9), she writes:
Even what is risibly called Ebonics—black dialect—can be traced back to the British highlanders, who used such words and phrases as “I be,” “You be,” “ax” (ask), “acrost” (across), “do” (door), “dat” (that). As [Thomas] Sowell says, “No such words came from Africa.”
I expect black English dialect is a mix of influences, but here she and Sowell are really talking about pronunciation and grammar, not words as such. However, the “I be” etc. formulation is notably preserved in a poem by English poet George Wither (1588–1667):
|If she be not so to me|
|What care I how kind she be?|
*Remember, it’s a long “i” in “lived”.
A little history on the origins of the emoticon; prototypes were invented for actual type as far back as the 19th century, but Scott Fahlman in 1982 invented emoticons as we know them. And I proposed, on Facebook, a thumbs-down icon since Facebook refuses to provide one:
Doing a study — what works as a thumbs-down sign:
Karen Hickerson suggested ¿"", but using the upside-down Spanish question mark is too much of a hassle unless you have a Spanish keyboard, or create a macro to access that symbol.
Chris Stephens offered his rendition of a finger up — nnn — but that wouldn’t suit my conversations. I can induce enough hostility with plain speech.
I put this phrase in my notes with no elaboration, but I’m pretty sure that I meant the special grammar used to talk to cats (OK, and dogs too). If I say “Was it a good kitty?” (or bad kitty), I am not using the past tense. It’s the subjunctive. And when I say “Was him a good kitty?”, “him” is a special form of the nominative, or subjective case, used with the kitty subjunctive.
THE VANISHING POINT
My favorite site for reading about people dumber and angrier than me is Not Always Right (along with its companion site Not Always Working), as in, the customer is not; true stories of unsatisfactory commercial encounters. One story began, “We are a small hotel in an even smaller town.” Perhaps some physicist could explain this to me.
You’ve heard, and maybe read, “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” That’s the King James Bible version. The Geneva Bible translates this as “Lay thy bread upon wet faces.” If I were you I wouldn’t spend too much time meditating upon this scripture from the Geneva Bible.
This and that from here and there:
Miles makes plans for he and Lou. (TV menu)
Obvious point: You wouldn’t say “Miles makes plans for he.”
I’m a sophomore English teacher. As a part of the curriculum, all sophomores must complete one MLA style research paper in their second semester. We’ve just gone through all the basics and we were finally able to begin writing. Please note that this is my “Pre-AP” class, which is the highest level of sophomore English.
Student: Do we have to use well grammar?
Obvious point: Um, as opposed to ill grammar?
My boyfriend, a friend of his, and myself were out to eat….
Obvious point: You wouldn’t say “Myself was out to eat.”
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Instead of resolutions I’m making a to-do list, which includes a new music CD by bluesman Sonny Robertson, a book of short stories by Ray Vincent, whose book of poetry (see below) I published earlier, and a few other projects that may or may not be completed this year. I’ll be in touch.