July 13, 2007
Got an e-mail from someone (not a PO reader!) who wrote: “This is a nice sediment...” She meant sentiment. Probably not a typo. (By the way, I have type O blood. Moreover, it’s type O negative. Coincidence? Perhaps.) Sediment seems like the kind of mistake caused by someone who does not read much and who’s misheard the word. Maybe everyone she’s ever known who used the word sentiment suffered from nasal congestion. Fred and I started riffing on it: “Gonna Take a Sedimental Journey” ~ “Getting Sedimental Over You” ~
Elsewhere I read: “I must apologize for the parsity of the blog recently.” The writer meant “paucity” and also had probably always misheard the word and never read it. It’s a slippery slope. I can see it going from parsity to parsley.
From an ad: “Keep your furnace running fuel-efficient.” We would say, correctly, “running efficiently” but once you create the phrase “fuel-efficient” you can’t really use the technically correct adverb (“running fuel-efficiently”). It would sound clunky and pretentious. We might call this a necessary grammatical mistake.
FREE SPEECH REPORT
I was once kicked off an editing/proofreading listcom (or mailserve, what did we used to call those chats?) because the list owner was displeased with me. It was unacceptable to go off-topic, of course, but if you hit the wrong send button for a private comment to an individual, it was easy to send an off-topic comment to the whole list. I had a few off-topic conversations and maybe twice hit the wrong button. Nothing offensive; one conversation was about herbal medicine and one was about a gospel music concert. But I was summarily exiled. A few years later, another member, a very precise, gentlemanly editor, was kicked off the same list, although I don’t know the details. When I was kicked off, one member, who had different political opinions than I (at the time, his were more conservative but I think I’ve caught up with him by now), wrote me (on the side) to say that he supported my right to speak freely. I was impressed by his generosity. (And how did I know his political slant, anyway?)
Well, a private listserve (?) is private. The owner can do what he wants, and there are plenty of other venues on the Net, although I never joined another such list so I don’t know where to go to discuss, for example, the differences among “ensure”, “insure”, and “assure”. But free speech, which is free thought, is one of those freedoms that seems to require constant vigilance. It’s in the news all the time. Here are a few recent examples.
/// At Marquette University in Wisconsin, a professor got in trouble for posting this Dave Barry quip on his office door: "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government." Professors always have stuff on their doors, cartoons, quotes, pictures, bumper stickers. Why this one caught flak, I don't know. It may be just the word "enemy" that people find too sensitive. All those professorial ex-hippies usually think of the government as the enemy.
/// Legal language: Judges decided (2-1 in Fourth Circuit Court) to define Al Qaeda terrorists operating in the US as civilians, not “enemy combatants". If they're citizens, they could be defined as traitors, I should think. If they're not citizens, they could be tourist enemy combatants.
/// “Jungle” has largely been replaced by “rain forest”. “Jungle” has acquired many metaphorical connotations ~ “it’s a jungle out there” ~ but it has an exotic, mysterious feel too, and a sense of the lushest part of nature. Is “rain forest” more scientific? I think it’s worthwhile to retain the feelings people express about nature through language.
/// There have been objectives to the use of black as a metaphor, since it refers to race, and to black as a term for race, since many metaphors using black are negative. But you can’t have light without dark.
/// The British Parliament are not allowed to say the word Muslim when talking about terrorists. I suppose they’re allowed to be precise about all those Church of England terrorists they’re dealing with. What will happen to a MOP if he says “Islamic terrorist”?
/// Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, closed down one TV station (refused to renew its license) for supposedly technical infractions, but actually because it carried criticism of him. Now, I hear from one of my Venezuelan students, Chavez is threatening another station because someone said something he claims incited assassination. As another of my Venezuelan students said, “That bastard!” This is real government censorship, unlike the decisions made by individual citizens and business owners, such as the station that fired Don Imus for saying rude things.
/// There’s talk about resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine to “balance” talk radio, which is largely conservative politically. It is more than balanced already by almost all TV (both news and entertainment), movies, music (which often has political content), and the Internet. The idea is that one hour of political programming must be “balanced” by an equal amount of time given to the opposite view. But talk radio isn’t as monolithic as people believe. And are there only two sides to every question? Can an individual be expected not to have a “one-sided” opinion ~ can you believe two opposite things at the same time? The Fairness Doctrine came into being in 1949, before the TV era, to prevent leftist programming from monopolizing the airwaves. Now there’s a lot of bias against conservative speech ~ and thought. The jackboot is now on the other foot but the principle of free speech remains the same.
/// On the other hand ... in "Watch Your Language" by Bill Murchison, writing about standards of public speech, he notes that coarseness of speech is nearly always belligerent. Should our harshest, crudest, or angriest tones be the baseline on TV or in music? Is that "keeping it real"? This applies to sex in the media and lots of skin on the street as well. Is the extreme, or the extremely private, the only level of reality that counts? By analogy, we can apply this reasoning to political discourse. What some call the "proctologist's view" of American history is not the only history. Idealistic or idealized human standards are also real, but have to be kept alive by intentional use.
LATE BRAKING NEWS
Remember the sign I questioned last month, “No engine brake” ~ Dea (at least I think it was him, I neglected to make a note) sent this explanation:
My guess is that some sign fool inappropriately shortened “braking”. Engine braking is the VERY loud practice of downshifting as a way of slowing a vehicle. It's typically done on big heavy trucks because it saves a ton of wear on the actual brakes and is much less likely to cause a skid. In either method all that mechanical work (slowing the truck) gets absorbed somewhere, and in the case of engine braking, it gets absorbed by forcing the engine to run faster, which of course makes it very much louder all of a sudden.
Herb sent this last month:
I didn't know if this was a serious question about "creep" in physics, but was astonished to find when I pulled up the "web" definitions to find that they were generally just wrong, not even close. [This URL] is the best I saw looking around.
In the early years that I worked at Battelle Memorial Institute, the Institute's world renowned Creep Labs were still in operation. The tour guides touring guests around always had to deal with little giggles when they went past those labs with CREEP LAB signs on the doors.
We get lots of PR from African-Americans and other hyphenated Americans, but do you ever hear about Anglo-Americans? Scottish-Americans? Anyway, as an aimlessly proud Scot-American, I’ve built a new online store with tartan T-shirts and other items, at www.cafepress.com/scottartans ~ for those occasions when a kilt is just too much.