Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mongoose in a Mud Hole


Number 245

September 27, 2007


Overheard in New York

Where the education is better...

White teen girl #1: Oh my god, he is, like, so caliente! Haha, I just said that like the biggest white girl!

White teen girl #2, sarcastically: What, you say that like you're not proud of being a white girl!

White teen girl #1: Haha... Well, I'm not actually white. My nationality is European, which is actually much better than white.

White teen girl #2: Yeah, totally.

Where they really care about good writing...

Man to crying woman he just chased down the street : What did you want me to do?! Lie and say that you're a good writer?


Entrepreneurial quote: "We haven't had time for a vacation, let alone a day off." She had this backward. The thing you let alone is the larger thing compared to the smaller. That is, she hasn't had time for a day off, and don't even think about a vacation. Or, no time for a day off, much less a vacation.


Comedian Dennis Miller said on his radio program that comedy writers learn about the beats of comedy, and may even count the syllables of a joke. The timing and rhythm contribute to the humor. Unfortunately he didn't give an example and not being a professional comedy writer, I hesitate to take a guess. Miller was wondering if it depends on iambic pentameter but maybe that in itself was a joke. Also, when a caller asked what his favorite books were, he included Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Surprising, since as I've mentioned before he uses some words incorrectly ( e.g. nonplussed). However, style isn't always the same as vocabulary.


Kate's blog titled "Here's to the Jakes!" linked to her photos in the local papers covering the funerals of Boston area firefighters as well as 9/11 tributes to the firefighters who died that day. At first I thought some of the men were named Jake, but she says the word means fireman. I was confused because it's a slangy British word for latrine (meaning no disrespect). I would like to know the origin of "Jakes" meaning firefighters. Here are the links to Kate's work:


If you have a passel of ornry kids running around, you have a parcel of ordinary kids. Ornry or common behavior is not what we would wish from our children, which is superior behavior.


The new Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has many new entries that either change hyphenated words to single words (bumble-bee to bumblebee) or change them back to two separate words (ice-cream to ice cream). Keep in mind this is British usage.

I have had no luck in tracking down a quote from Mark Twain I vaguely remember from college, about hyphens. You'll remember his famous rule "Eschew surplusage" and he saw the hyphen as surplusage. All I found today was this:

...a word like "pains-takingly," hyphenated to reveal its etymology, is recorded first only from the 1860s, while a much older word like "hap-hazard," again hyphenated by Twain, takes on a new and perhaps poetical feeling, when paired with the term "shadings."

(An excerpt from Inventing English, A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerer.)


Dave DaBee asked why are they called clothes*pins*?

The root is penna, meaning feather ~ something long and pointed or sharp. I guess that's the common identifying characteristic of all kinds of pins and pens. But they have to be small. Not swords or spears, for instance.

Did you know a growing young pin feather can bleed?


Recently the Reichstag fire keeps cropping up in my listening and reading. Hitler was responsible for the burning of the German Parliament building, which he blamed on communists and used as an excuse to introduce repressive laws in the new Nazi Germany. Some people compare the destruction of the World Trade Towers to this fire, saying Bush et al did it in order to create an excuse for oppressive laws, etc. (Have you been oppressed lately, and if so, how, specifically?) Rosie O'Donnell said it was the first time in history steel burned. How does she think they make steel? I've been re-reading some essays by Tom Wolfe. In "These Radical Chic Evenings" the Black Panthers' lawyer vaguely compared their trial to the Reichstag fire ~ an attempt to remove all political opposition. Which didn't happen then and isn't happening now. In "The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America" Wolfe quotes Jean-Fran çois Ravel, "a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe."


I was happy to learn that Miss Manners (Judith Martin) was an English major. Recently she received a letter that said,

I am a college student working toward a degree in English teaching. My classmates and I find ourselves facing the following comments in a social setting:

"Oooh, you're an English major, I better watch what I say!" or when we slip up and say something grammatically incorrect, many around us laugh hysterically and holler, "I thought you were going to be an English teacher!"

The one I hate is, "English was my worst subject," although recently the man at the barbecue wagon I patronize said it was his favorite. And I didn't say to him, "Ooh, I'm such a mediocre cook." Miss Manners sensibly pointed out that many professionals receive unwelcome comments.


I just learned a new grammatical term in a British workbook, but presumably British and American grammar are the same. A performative verb does the thing it names. For example, if you say "Thank you" ("I thank you") you are thanking. Same with "I apologize". Saying "I'm sorry" is not the same, because "sorry" is not a verb, it's an adjective; you are describing your state of mind.


Another one of those road mysteries: a pickup truck with "MONGOOSE IN A MUD HOLE" on the back of the cab.


What do you see when you're at your computer? A robin outside the window behind our computer is eating red berries from the honeysuckle bush. I'd call him a fat robin but that's such a cliché. He's a tall, husky robin. The bright red berries are making him quite cheerful, but they look poisonous, and in fact are toxic to humans and animals. The word robin comes from the French name Robert, which became Robin Redbreast in England, sort of like Jack Frost.

It's hazardous outside the window, though. Saturday I found a lame chipmunk by the tomato plants, probably thanks to one of the cats, and I wanted to move him to a better location. When I picked him up he panicked and sank a tooth into my finger. I gave out a bloodcurdling (which must be a lot like blood-freezing or clotting) scream, but it wasn't my blood that curdled or froze, at least not right away. I had to pry the beast off my finger, which bled copiously. The chipmunk, or one very like him, is now reposing in a container in the refrigerator pending autopsy for rabies, but I think he was just scared because I picked him up. He passed away peacefully, apparently from internal injuries. The word chipmunk is an alteration of the obsolete chitmunk, perhaps from Ojibwa ajidamoon, meaning red squirrel, or treacherous pain-dealing rodent.

And, it's raining at last.



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