Thursday, August 30, 2007

Civilly Defensive

Number 241
August 30, 2007



Last week out of the blue I got a little job editing a paper for a Muslim academic who hopes to publish it in a professional journal. I corrected some punctuation, grammar, etc., and took the opportunity to query some questionable content. For instance, in her first draft, she repeatedly referred to the Muslim community vs. Western secular society. I explained that the U.S., at least, is not exactly a secular society even though we do not have a state religion. Most Americans identify themselves as religious, even if they are not devout, and many priests, rabbis, and ministers give counseling and are even trained counselors. She was amenable to suggestions.

Her paper identified three common strains of Islamic counseling: the imams' counsel is based on sharia law; traditional healing has to do with casting out evil spirits; and Sufism as a spiritual path can lead to healing. I was particularly pleased with my rewrite of her title, although ordinarily I would aim for greater brevity (is "greater brevity" an oxymoron?):

Islam, Culture and Counseling: Delineating Parameters of Theory and Practice


Islamic Culture and Western Counseling: How Islamic Law, Traditional Healing, and Sufism Parallel Western Counseling Methods

It's always a good idea to jettison "parameters".

As a woman, the writer had some objections to sharia law, and I pointed out that Western counseling, even when based on structured ideas, as is psychotherapy, does not have the force of law, let alone the force of explosives.

Also, this week I chanced on a new column in the Louisiana State University Daily Review by a Muslim, possibly a student, and I felt moved to send a reply, which for some reason wasn't posted. I wanted to talk about the meaning of the word "cowboy". Mohamed Elrawady wrote:

...many foreigners like to think of a cowboy as someone who would do anything, regardless of its ethical and moral appropriateness. In other words, a cowboy could be someone who discards all cultural and intellectual products of civilization, adhering only to the law of the jungle.

Who do you suppose he was talking about? My response was that to me, a cowboy is someone who acts on his own code of right and wrong, which is not the same as the law of the jungle. In the old West, before traditional justice systems were established, his own morality was all a person had to go by, but the cowboy was certainly a product of civilization. A cowboy made his own decisions when action was called for, he did not ask others to do it for him. He stood up to attack. I suggested that Mohamed make it a project to watch every cowboy movie ever made, at least up until the 1970s or so. Especially Roy Rogers.


Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina answered a question: Why do you think 1/5 of Americans cannot locate the USA on a map? Miss SC "personally believes" it's because some "U.S. Americans" in our nation don't have maps; the rest of her answer is completely incoherent. Clearly the answer is to fund a program to put a map in the hands of every U.S. American.


||| Most unconvincing spam of the week: from Suicidal L. Flamencos, subject: "The Pharmacy America Trusts." Has Dr. Kevorkian started a new business?

||| Heard on radio or someplace: "...they are truly pacifists at a principial level." Principial?

||| Heard somewhere: "...he turned his nose to it." You can turn your back and you can turn your nose up at something, but it's really hard just to turn your nose to something.

||| New word to watch out for ~ literally: vloggers. These are video bloggers (web log), some of whom videotape themselves talking while they are driving.


From a travel brochure: The Amish challenge is "how to remain the same and yet stay relevant in a world that is constantly changing." Do the Amish want to stay "relevant" to, uh, the rest of us? Were they relevant a century ago? What they want is to make a living, which is what this article was about. They can't all buy farms now, so they open businesses. Do you do your job to stay relevant, or to make a living, or for some other reason? This is a case of a writer throwing in "relevant" buzz words to take the place of thinking.


New reader Caleb Stone found PO online when he was searching for "malaphors". I had forgotten this word, but I quoted Richard Lederer about malaphors in PO 105. Worth re-reading and remembering.


I've already bought my 2008 Old Farmer's Almanac. An article about contests includes the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, to be held May 17, 2008, in Austin, Texas. They're looking for speed, quantity, and a "limber lexicon".


Anne DaBee wrote:

And lastly (ahem), where in the world did "back in the day" come from? "In the olden days" works fine to define times gone by, while "back in the day" seems (to me) to want reference to a specific day. I dislike that as much as I dislike "all of the sudden".

A black woman I knew in Boston, originally from New York City, told me that "back in the day" was a black expression (which she said she rather resented hearing from the lips of white people). "The day" does suggest some specific memory, i.e., my day and your day, not just any days, which gives it a different feel.

Personally, I wonder if phrases like those result from our becoming more of an aural/oral culture, where most of the younger people read and write less and therefore don't SEE the words ~ they're the ones who are speaking incorrectly (to my way of thinking). For instance, I struggled for a long time with students who said "ax" (I'll ax my muvva if I can go) and could see no reason why it should be spelled "ask". We'll ignore the "muvva" for now.

Anne is right about the aural culture. Some people think the Internet and texting will edge out the printed word, but there's no substitute for reading a closely reasoned, complex argument. Not everything can be conveyed with a video. And the physical aspect of books is not as anxiety-producing as anything computerized and digitalized. I like both.

Anne's son Dave DaBee wrote:

Well, somewhere along the line Mom picked up this tidbit of littlekidspeak: "Then, all of too sudden..."

And next to lastly, Bill R. remembered part of a poem call The One-Hoss Shay:

The parson was working his Sunday's text, --
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed...

At lastly, I think it was Dave who forward the 14th Annual Emperor Awards. Don't miss it. The awards for the most obvious research (e.g., advertising influences people) reminded me of a long-ago Ph.D. candidate in phys ed who wrote a thesis on her experiment comparing bums who bathed with those who didn't, discovering that the non-bathers had more bacteria on their skin. Dave suggested it was the Filthy Bums project; I thought it might have been the Bum Bums research. (Dave, time to start training for the Pun-Off.)


Tim S. informed me that one of our professors from The University of Tulsa, Dr. Winston Weathers, died at the age of 80 on July 5. His was the only class on rhetoric I ever took, and I wish I'd had many more classes with him. He was a true scholar and professor in the classic mold, who let us know that he was, and we should be, grateful to sit in a place devoted to learning.

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