Thursday, August 16, 2007

Webly Words

Number 239
August 16, 2007


Here’s another briefer PO serving as my token vacation: short and surly this week.


Last weekend’s road trip didn’t yield much material. I guess I’ve been over that road too many times. I did notice a couple of license plates:

utakus (“you take us”?)

3INONE (oil? the Trinity?)


Two 13-year-old boys in Oregon are being prosecuted as sex offenders for slapping girls on the butt in school, although girls were doing the same thing. The prosecutor or somebody referred to the boys as “pedophiles” ( literally, child lover, but not the good kind of love). Can you use that term to refer to someone vis a vis someone else his or her own age? Well, let he who has never slapped the butt of someone his own age throw the first lawsuit.


From Overheard in New York:

Man with clipboard: Do you want to change the Constitution?

Lady passerby: No.

Man with clipboard: I'll take that as a 'yes'!

I wonder who paid for that poll.

Lately I’ve been hearing “mad” used as an intensifier in the same way “wicked” is used around Boston: “It’s mad hot today” (very hot or madly hot). Now I’ve run across “dumb” used similarly: “I’m dumb far” (extremely far). Urban Dictionary says these are New York slang.


Sometimes TV and radio reporters sound as if they aren’t quite used to English syntax:

“He held people hostages until he was talked by police into surrendering.”

Should be: “He held people hostage until police talked him into surrendering.”

“How long will you have to work before you even can retire?”

Compare “before you can even retire” or “before you are even able to retire”.


Mike Sykes wrote:

Regarding “informational” (which I did not like as a variant of “informative”):

While I fully share your feelings on the subject, I can quote my dictionary:

/informational/ a. of or pertaining to information; conveying information: E19.

/informative/ a. Having the quality of informing, in various senses...goes back much further/

Regarding Spam:

I can remember quite liking Spam, perhaps because it was salty. Actually I believe it also contains sodium nitrite as a preservative. As did Prem, which was similar. I enjoyed both as fritters. Also corned (bully) beef. The reason Spam became a joke was because there was so much of it and similar products around during WW2. Which we should have been grateful for, because there was precious little fresh meat.

“Bully” comes from the French word for boil, which explains the corned beef but not its other meanings. Mike says both the OED and Wikipedia cite a Monty Python sketch as the source of webly spam as we know it today.


I’ve been reading Theodore Dalrymple’s book Our Culture, What’s Left of It. He’s a good writer and quite interesting, if rather gloomy, about his experiences as a doctor in prison, slum hospitals, and other of the poorest spots on earth. He makes the point that it’s a misapprehension that free expression of every impulse and emotion is healthy, as exemplified by the man who said to him, “I had to kill her, doctor, or else I don’t know what I would have done.” What? He might have started biting his nails? Dalrymple also identifies the use of the passive voice as an indication of the abdication of responsibility (which I wrote about before in PO 29). Here are examples culled from his patients:

The knife went in.

Heroin is everywhere.

The beer went mad.

A fight broke out, a gun arrived, I accidentally took it, it went off.

Just like Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes who testified in her murder trial: “Suddenly he became shot!”


My Scottish ancestors are rolling over in their stony graves. Thanks to the thwarted airport attack by Islamist doctors, Scottish health service workers have been told they can’t eat lunch at their desks during the Ramadan fast if they have Muslim co-workers. “The idea is to get faith in the workplace out in the open,” said Na’eem Raza, consultant with the Glasgow organization Meem, which advises on Muslim issues and counts the Scottish Parliament among its clients. I think that’s just what we don’t want right now. Meem wants everyone to understand what Muslims are feeling. I think the jihadist doctors made that perfectly clear.


As you know, the suffix “ly” came from the Old English “like”. Thus to be friendly is to be like a friend. If something is orderly, it is like order. I heard someone use this noun-plus-ly form as an adverb, and I don’t know why it doesn’t seem acceptable as an adverb, as in “He said it friendly” (He said it in a friendly way) or “Please line up orderly” (Please line up in an orderly fashion). “Ly” added to an adjective, rather than to a noun, produces a conventional adverb (“She walked rapidly”).

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