Thursday, January 31, 2008

Parvum Opus 263 ~ Rectification of Language


Number 263
January 31, 2008


I’ve mentioned Theodore Dalrymple’s book In Praise of Prejudice; here’s an interview with him on the subject in the online American Spectator. Opening Q&A:

BC: Dr. Dalrymple, would you say that the rehabilitation and clarification of basic terms ~ such as prejudice, discrimination, honor, good and evil ~ has become an essential task for conservatives? Is that why you wrote In Praise of Prejudice?

Theodore Dalrymple: I suppose I am a bit of a Confucian in the matter of the rectification of language. And I am afraid that in the present climate, the connotation of words has often taken over in importance from their denotation. Thus, since irrational racial antagonism is a manifestation of prejudice, all prejudice comes to partake of the quality of irrational racial antagonism, and the right-thinking person thinks he has to overthrow prejudice as such. This is not realistic: no one has ever lived or could ever live as if this were the case. Hence we live in a state of humbug.

Here’s what Confucius said (or is said to have said):

If names are not rectified then language will not flow. If language does not flow, then affairs cannot be completed. If affairs are not completed, ritual and music will not flourish. If ritual and music do not flourish, punishments and penalties will miss their mark. When punishments and penalties miss their mark, people lack the wherewithal to control hand and foot. Hence a gentleman's* words must be acceptable to vocalize and his language must be acceptable as action. A gentleman's language lacks anything that misses ~ period.

In other words, for want of a nail, etc. In this case, it’s for want of correct usage, the people are lost. If anyone can be called a conservative, it’s Confucius. As he said, “A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.” Considering all we don’t know, caution is well advised.

(*or, a superior man)


Dave DaBee wrote:

During a near-all-nighter at work the other day, I discovered a brag on the side of a Domino's box:


This box has been engineered with thermal exhaust ports for optimal crust consistency.

Thank God for engineering. Otherwise we'd have to live with mere vent slits in the box.

Otherwise known as holes to non-engineers. Is crust consistency what we want? We wouldn’t want consistent sogginess but we might want consistent crispiness, unless we don’t like crispy pizza crusts. We want crust perfection. I want to know who has the job of writing the copy on the pizza boxes. I’m thinking it’s a desperate English major.


I heard it there, you read it here:

/// “In lieu of that fact that” instead of “in light of the fact”. “In lieu” means “instead”. I know it’s a French word but it’s been around long enough that we ought to know what it means.

/// “Leery to continue” instead of “leery of continuing”. Purely idiomatic, I think, since we can say “afraid to continue”.

/// “Took home well more than minimum wage” instead of “well over”. This is from Freakonomics, which I’m listening to on CD. Has anyone ever said “well more than”? It’s “much more than”. This sounds like one of those crossed-synapse mistakes that usually only occur in speech, not in writing (or in this case, reading). The wage earners in question, by the way, are crack dealers; the lower level street dealer hardly makes anything but has ambitions to become one of the few big earners.


“Archbishop of Canterbury calls for new law to punish 'thoughtless or cruel' words.” Apparently an old blasphemy law is being scuttled, and the slander and/or libel laws are problematic, but this one could go even further. You could arrest just about everybody. And I’m sure a law could be enacted to cover more than just words; how about facial expressions? Smirks, leers, frowns and so on are all bound to offend someone, somewhere, sometime. And if you use really reliable lie detector tests, you might pin down what people thoughtlessly think.

Anyway, if the Archbishop gets his way, who gets to decide what’s thoughtless or cruel? Does your right to free speech give way to someone else’s right not to have to hear anything they don’t like? Will it be against the law to be rude? Oscar Wilde said, “A gentleman is someone who is never unintentionally rude.” Will there be age limits on either end? Will children be exempted, as when my young son pointed to a dwarf, midget, short person, or whatever the correct term is, and said, “Look at that short man!” or something like that. What about old people? Maybe we can all pretend to be prematurely senile, without any control over what we say. The cases of Tourette’s syndrome will increase, providing a medical excuse for prohibited remarks.


Here’s a book recommendation that has nothing much to do with words: Architecture of the Absurd: How “Genius” Disfigured a Practical Art by John Silber. It’s really an essay, less than 100 pages with lots of pictures. The son of an architect, Silber was president and chancellor of the University of Boston. His book condemns some of the hideous and sometimes ridiculous architecture that’s been sold mostly to non-profit organizations with loose funds lying around, unaccountable to no one. The architects’ selling point is novelty. Take, for instance, the building that looks like it’s crashed into a block of buildings. Too reminiscent of the World Trade Towers, but it was built since then. A number of examples in the book have been built in Boston since I left in 2002. Can’t turn my back on them for a minute.

If you like this book, you’ll like Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House, about architecture, and The Painted Word, which is about art and words; Wolfe says that some modern art has more to do with its abstruse verbal theory than with technique, beauty, or subject.


Mike Sykes wrote about the lost T in words like built, instead of builded:

We have also lost a syllable in some cases such as /dreamed/, /spoiled/, where the alternatives of /dreamt /and /spoilt/ are still a matter of choice; but with /beloved/ it's the pronunciation that's optional (unlike /loved/).


I’ve written about the pronunciation of “long-lived” before; it should be a long “i” (as in live performance) but everyone always uses a short “i” (as in living it up). gives the long i as the first pronunciation choice, but its sound clip has the short i. However, its list of most mispronounced words includes long-lived with the long i, and gives a useful way to understand and remember the correct pronunciation:

This compound is not derived from ''to live longly'' (you can't say that) but from ''having a long life'' and should be pronounced accordingly. The plural stem, live(s), is always used: "short-lived," "many-lived," "triple-lived."


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Parvum Opus 262 ~ Diverse Dispissal


Number 262

January 24, 2008



From City Journal:

Booker T. Washington exhorted America’s industrialists to “cast down your bucket” not among new immigrants but “among the eight million Negros . . . who have without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities.”

“Builded” is an antiquated form (now mostly seen in the Bible) that’s been replaced by “built”, a case where the regular verb was superseded by a slightly irregular verb form. The spelling followed the pronunciation; the letter D often becomes a T, but here we’ve lost an entire syllable. This T sound in the past tense appears in other words, such as slept, swept, kept, and wept, where the vowel sound also changed.


... why doesn’t the verb despise have a noun partner? Hate has hatred, loathe has loathing, abhor has abhorrence, and so on. Where is despision, or despiss, or despissal?

... where the term “shot glass” came from? I thought it might have something to do with bird shot or gun shot. Wikipedia indeed lists these among several theories of the origin of the name, but there’s no clear winner. But did you know jigger comes from chigger (a little thing that bites)?


Writer Paul Coehlo (also see Wikipedia) asks on YouTube for people to respond to his question, “How can we, as a society, meaning everybody, really improve the situation of the world?” This is much like another college assignment I blew through intellectual laziness, but Coehlo should know better. The professor gave us, as the final exam, the task of writing our own exam questions, extrapolated from the semester’s studies. I ended up with one question that I thought summed up everything, which I can’t remember but which was probably something like Coehlo’s. Aldous Huxley answered a similar question by saying that after a lifetime of thinking and study, all he had to suggest was that everyone try to be a little kinder to each other.

Of narrower and clearer focus are the Reel Geezers (search for them on, two movie professionals now over 80 who review new movies. Very sharp and funny.


In reading about Harry Truman, I learned that a lightfoot Baptist is one who dances or whose church allows dancing.


I heard Newt Gingrich on radio say “persecute this war” instead of “prosecute” (pursue). This is the kind of mistake that’s easy to make when you’re not speaking from a script, and the roots of the two words are very close: per sequi, follow through; por sequi, follow [for?]. Of course they don’t mean the same now and the distinction must be preserved (persevered?), although this war has certainly been persecuted as long as it’s been prosecuted.


Bill R. found this headline:

1-ton rodent remains discovered

By the time I followed his link, the headline had been changed, but it was used on other web news sites. Bill wrote, “One presumes they meant, ‘Remains of 1-ton rodent discovered’ since it's hard to undiscover something.” Reminded me of the old Saturday Night Live running joke, “Franco is still dead!” (although it’s a very different kind of joke).

Another headline from local news:

Xavier doing more than just talk about setting academic priorities.

This should be, “Xavier doing more than just talking ....” To my ear, the verb following “more than just” should be parallel to “doing”. Another possible headline might be, “Xavier does more than just talk about ....”


If I had a million dollars for every time I’ve been offered vast fortunes by Nigerian Scam letters, I’d have a lot of money. Here’s a particularly gorgeous example of this genre of writing:

Sequel to the secretive arrangement in regards of the shipment of inflated contract Funds, I wish to inform you that all necessary modalities have been automatically concluded enable the consignment leave London to your country thorugh an Express Cargo Flight (Diplomatic Delivery Agent). Note carefully the content of the crate/consignment is "MONEY U.S Dollar $14 Million Cash" but I did not disclose it to the Courier Services as Money, rather I declare the contain as Vital "DOCUMENTS AND EXPENSIVE AFRICA ART WORK" belonging to my client (that's you).


Yale has a complicated diversity program, with a diversity dean for every sort of minority; majority members are not, of course, diverse. I guess that makes them the same as themselves.

If you’re clear on your diversity, how’s your math? How’s your kid’s math? Check out this article on math to diversity course ratios at education schools at City Journal.

A link in the above-linked article led me to The Underground Grammarian, which has several books by the late Richard Miller posted in their entirety online and available, they say, for plagiarism:

Less Than Words Can Say

The Graves of Academe

The Leaning Tower of Babel

The Gift of Fire

... plus The Underground Grammarian newsletters, and more.

Further linkage turned up WitNit, not quite the quality of Miller’s work, I’d say, but pretty good and you’ll find loads of other intriguing links there.


Overheard in New York:

Teacher: Ben, you got a six out of ten. That's not great.

Ben: Mr. L*, I'm gonna tell you my life motto. It is, 'If you push me over the edge, I will grab you by the neck and pull you down with me... And then push you into Hell.'


Reader Dave DeBronkart (Dave DaBee) has two blogs worth reading. For the last year he’s been posting at about the treatment of some serious cancer. He wasn’t expected to live past some date in June, I believe it was, but he had fantastic treatment, optimism, and support, and thank God he’s still with us. He’s working on publishing this blog plus the many, many guestbook entries in an online book which will be a great source of practical information and inspiration for everyone who wants or needs it. Also, he’s asking if anyone has any experience with collaborative editing software (e.g. wiki-based web tools), please let him know.

Now Dave has started a new blog at Now, he’s thinking, “...what if at this point in the story it had turned the other direction? For some people who read it, that will be their outcome... what can we say to those people? I know many of you have had that outcome in your family or friends. If you have thoughts about what to say, please say so in the guestbook.”

(Once again, I’ll mention my old friend and PO reader Susan Shaver, who discovered she had leukemia about the same time that Dave learned of his cancer. She expected to have more time, but she died last year.)

Do read Dave’s old and new blogs and leave your thoughts in the guestbooks.

If anyone else out there has a blog, let me know about it and I’ll mention it in PO.


If you’re in a fair fight you didn’t plan properly.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Parvum Opus 260 ~ Smoke-Filled Brains

Number 260
January 9, 2008



Thanks to son Foy for the Christmas gift of FUBAR: Soldier Slang of World War II, not to be confused with War Slang by Paul Dickson, which I mentioned in PO 212. War Slang is a collection of U.S. military slang, while FUBAR is a 2007 publication by Gordon L. Rottman that covers U.S., British, German, Japanese, and Red Army slang. Need I explain fubar itself, which we've discussed before? F***ed up beyond all recognition.

Anent* our recent discussion of the whole nine yards, FUBAR gives the nine yards of machine-gun ammunition explanation, but also says, "More than likely it originated from an old British term 'up to the nines,' meaning perfectly or thoroughly." Like "dressed to the nines"? But he gives no further etymology of that phrase. The book was first published in England. (Dickson's book doesn't list whole nine yards at all.)

Some of the U.S. terms obviously originated before the war, such as mule skinner (mule handler) and moocher (as in "Minnie the Moocher"); many are still in common use. Many were used by my father; two of the milder ones in his vocabulary were knucklehead and knot-head. The book fell open at organized grab ass, which means calisthenics; Fred guessed this one right away.

Tommy, Aussie, Canuck, and Kiwi talk: A number of the Brits' words are derived from Arabic, Hindi, and other languages of the outposts of Empire. Here's a great phrase describing an admirable soldier: [his] blood's worth bottling. A bolshie was a complainer or contrary, irritating person; I assume it comes from Bolshevik. Chad was the British version of Kilroy, who was always here.

The German slang includes an odd English coinage which doesn't appear in the U.S. and British lists: aspirinjesus, a substandard physician, or one lacking in medical supplies. Blau (blue) meant drunk. Alcohol issued before an attacked was wutmilch (anger milk).

Disparaging Japanese names: ameko (American), chankoro (Chinese), chosen-jin (korean), rosuke (Russian). It's hard to get a feel for why or how these were disparaging, but I'll take Rottman's word for it. Haisen fuku meant defeat suits, that is, uniforms that ex-soldiers had to wear after the war due to clothing shortages. Haisen kutsu were defeat shoes. Kamikaze no fuki sokone meant "the divine wind did not blow", alluding to the defeat.

The Red Army called a type of hand grenade a lemon (compare U.S. pineapple). Natsmen was a derogatory general term for the many ethnic minorities in the USSR. Ruzveltovskie yaitsa were powdered eggs provided by Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program. (Yaitsa also translates to testes.) And do you remember SMERSH in the James Bond movies? It's a contraction meaning death to spies.

*Anent is my tribute to S. J. Perelman, who amused himself and me with the pointless use of archaic words.


Mike Sykes told me about a new Koran blog, courtesy of writer Ziauddin Sardar, a "sceptical" or moderate Muslim. Mike also sent the tip to Ophelia Benson, editor of Butterflies and Wheels, who wrote:

I can't help twitching rather. He means it to sound nostalgic-spiritual (at least I think he does) but to me it just sounds like rather intense indoctrination. And he calls himself a 'skeptical Muslim'...I wonder what a credulous one would sound like.

My response was, they sound like "BOOM!" Anyway, I haven't read the Bible thoroughly yet, so I'll defer reading the Koran thoroughly. I also mentioned another Koran blog some time ago, posted by Robert Spencer. Would this be the place to mention the Dallas cab driver who killed his two teenage daughters for being too American? The paper reported that his son Islam said, "Why is it every time an Arab father kills a daughter, it's an honor killing. It didn't have anything to do with that." ("Every time"!?!?) So he was just a typical crazy Americanized murderer? It's not really Mr. Said's Egyptian cultural custom, and the Muslim connection is just an awkward coincidence. However, there is now such a thing (psychologically, legally, or maybe only journalistically) as "sudden jihad syndrome".

Mike also found examples in the OED of "Selah" being used by various writers who don't seem to know exactly what it means.

As for that make-up glow, he reminded me of the old saw, "Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, but ladies only glow a little." I like the adaptation from the band Men at Work in "Down Under", where "the women glow and the men plunder." Great band, great song, video so-so. (Digression: When my brother first heard that song, he said he'd had a similar experience, but I don't know what he meant. The Vegemite sandwich? More likely the head full of zombie.)

And Mike wrote about traditions:

I recall seeing a report once of a notice on the notice board of some military establishment that said: "From next Monday, it will be a tradition ..."

Always good to plan ahead, otherwise you don't know what you might end up with. I worked for an editor once who said we had a tradition because something had been done annually for about two years. People really need traditions.

(And a correction: I should have typed


By the way, Dave DaBee and I agree that the noble Albert Tudor-Smythe of S.P.E.C.S. is fictional ~ The name "Tudor-Smythe" is a giveaway ~ but he found links to a real organization, the Queen's English Society, and lots of other good stuff:

A lecture for the Churchill Society by Ian Bruton-Simmonds of The Queen's English Society: A Criticism of Modern Linguistics with Suggestion for Improvement of English through the BBC. Following the links, he found Pain in the English, a follow-up interview on the lecture, and a BBC article, but doesn't know where he heard Tudor-Smythe say "Damn them!"


I don't know why the presidential candidates chose to start campaigning two years before the election instead of one. If they have jobs, they're not doing them. But I can no longer keep pretending they're not in our faces all the time. Luckily, if you miss Dave Barry, and if you feel like you have to pay attention to politics, you can read his coverage of the primaries, pols, polls, etc. online. And luckily for me, politics is mostly all about words.

There was a bit of a tempest last week when Hillary Clinton said Obama perhaps "hadn't done the spade work", alluding to his relative inexperience. People suggested that maybe this was this a racial slur. When I was in college, my friends and I (all white) thought the word "spade" was cool; colored was not cool (though "people of color" is now), Negro was too-too, and we'd never use anything insulting like the N-word. I don't think Eventually, maybe because "black as the ace of spades" sounded sort of offensive, the word faded away, although "black" with its attendant power came in vogue. I doubt if Hillary was making a racial allusion, although there's some merit to the idea that she never says anything that's not carefully planned. In any case, we can't throw out ancient expressions like "doing the spade work" (which means doing fundamental labor, not black labor), or "calling a spade a spade". Interestingly, though the latter phrase may have had some racial tinge (no pun intended) in recent times, it goes back to 178 B.C. in Plutarch, according to The Phrase Finder. I do not think Mrs. Clinton would be so crude as to make a racial slur.

She cheered up tremendously after she won in New Hampshire following the Iowa debacle, and said now she's "found her own voice". What voice was she using before? People are interpreting this voice business in various ways, but maybe she heard some of the "spade" criticism and meant to imply those were someone else's words. Or something.

Unity and change are big Democrat buzz words now. I agree that everyone should unify with me and my opinions. But change what, who, where? A female or black president would be change of the color or shape of the skin of the president, but I suppose change refers to the war or the capitalist economic system.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Parvum Opus 259 ~ Smartastic


Number 259

January 3, 2008



Richard Lederer sent the more thorough explanation of Shakespeare and the 46th psalm:

In 1610, the year of the most intensive work on the translation, Shakespeare was forty-six years old. Given this clue, we turn to the Forty-sixth Psalm as it appears in the King James Bible. Count down to the forty-sixth word from the beginning and then count up to the forty-sixth word from the end, excluding the cadential Selah:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed,

and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,

though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,

the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved:

God shall help her, and that right early.

The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved:

he uttered his voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,

what desolations he hath made on earth;

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth;

he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder;

he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God:

I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

If you counted accurately, your finger eventually lit upon the two words shake and spear. Shakespeare. Whether or not he created the majesty of the forty-sixth psalm, he is in it. Whether the embedded shake spear is a purposeful plant or the product of happy chance, the name of the world's most famous poet reposes cunningly in the text of the world's most famous translation.

(In the slightly earlier Douay-Rheims translation, the words shake and spear do not appear.) Since there’s no record of Shakespeare working with the KJV translation committee, I wonder who first came up with this bit of cryptography?

And I’ve always wondered about “Selah”; says:

a Hebrew word of unknown meaning at the end of verses in the Psalms: perhaps a musical direction, but traditionally interpreted as a blessing meaning “forever”

Other dictionaries offer different possible meanings, some pertaining to musical pauses. Dick Lederer’s “cadential” has a nice cadence.


Kathy T. wrote vis a vis “blush” vs. “rouge”:

Do you remember that crayon nobody ever liked? I think it was called burnt orange. We have an elementary school teacher here that wears that shade of "glow" and by the way, also complements it with the up-to-the-eyebrow blue eyeshadow. What is it that you would call "burnt orange blush"? Could it be "Blazing Sunset" instead of the usual generic "Rose"? I have never seen a "blush" the color of hers ever in my life until my son started school there. If we could call the eyeshadow something like "Ocean Blue" and we add the "Blazing Sunset", we would have a postcard from the beach image.

In a way, I admire manic makeup. It shows a hopeful nature. Blue eyeshadow was considered the depth of tacky for years but I believe it snuck (sneaked?) back in the bruised or heroin-addict look. I’d like to have a job naming makeup colors. I did in fact dream up a line of transparent nail colors to be called Cellophane, and I had some fun naming the various shades. I think there was a Beach Glass, but I can’t recall the others.


Lake Superior State University announced the 2008 Banished Words List. I have to disagree with two entries, waterboarding and the surge. I think people are just tired of hearing about the war, but these are pretty specific terms, not easily replaced. The surge could have been called something else, but it wasn’t, and now it refers to a specific military build-up and change of tactics in a specific time and place. Waterboarding is pretty specific too. It does sound like a sport, but what else are you going to call it?


Dave DaBee tipped me to the Stupidity Filter Project, mentioned on Bad Language. The Stupid Filter Project would filter faulty or poor use of English. I guess I’d be out of my unpaid job, then. Bad Language is a more useful site.

Dave also contributed a couple more nuggets: He heard people on NPR misuse between. For example, you say “between January 1 and January 3” but “from January 1 to January 3” (not “between January 1 to January 3” or “from January 1 and January 3”; if you use a dash, you don’t use either between or from). It’s a matter of logic. Dave expects more from NPR.

He also heard someone from the Society for the Preservation of the Queen’s English ~ it must have been Albert Tudor-Smythe, president of S.P.E.C.S. and a very great man ~ offer to be BBC’s grammar police. When asked if that wouldn’t annoy a lot of people, he said, “Damn them!” Hail Britannia!


On New Year’s Day the local paper suddenly dropped some cartoons and substituted some others. The great loss is Agnes by Tony Cochran, but we’ve gained Dilbert daily and Get Fuzzy. Two January 1 strips fooled around with words:

In Get Fuzzy, the cat came up with dinnerfying, session de chew, and eatification for dinner; he said his editor was smartastic; and the dog said the cat wanted him to call the waffle iron the waffle hottie.

In Frazz, a kid made a clever point:

If I have myself an orange juice every new year's morning, it's a tradition.

If I have an orange juice every single morning, it's a routine.

If I leave the glass in the living room twice, apparently it's a habit.

Where is this going?

If I gripe about the language instead of about my control-freak mom, it's a diversion.

I guess a tradition has some meaning or ritual attached; a routine is purposeful; a habit could be good or bad, but may not be thought out. Do you have any traditions? If so, how many repetitions are necessary for something to become a tradition?


Bumper sticker: “Pre-school is not bootcamp for kindergarten!” I didn’t get it but it was such a forceful statement that I looked it up and sure enough, the phrase appears on numerous web pages. It’s about making too many demands on pre-schoolers. Too much scheduling, too many goals.

Another interesting mini-seminar thanks to Hugh Hewitt, December 31 and January 1: 3 1/2 hours on the history of ideas in the West by Hillsdale College President Dr. Larry Arnn, recorded 6 years ago. He also explains the scope and purposes of a traditional liberal education. Example of an interesting idea that’s new to me: “The Hebrews wandered the desert 40 years after their release from Egypt, partly to work the slavishness out of them so they’d be worthy of the promised land.”


Some time ago I started posting Parvum Opus on a blog as well as on my web site, just because blogs are done now. I didn’t think anyone read it (besides, the formatting is out of my control), but today I got an e-mail about PO 256 Tunavision, and not from a regular reader. It was, perhaps, a form letter, from the Muslims Against Sharia blog. (The letter does not appear as a comment in my blog.) In the Tunavision PO, I mentioned the British teacher in Sudan who allowed her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Most of the Western Muslim establishment is comprised of Islamist groups claiming to be moderates. True moderate Muslims reject Islamic supremacy and Sharia; embrace religious equality and democracy.... Muslims Against Sharia compiled a list of issues that differentiate moderate Muslims from Islamic radicals. Hopefully you can help us grow this list.

I consider this an encouraging sign. I don’t know who is behind this Reform Islam web site, but it’s posted in Swedish and Russian as well as English. Take a look.

By the way, did you know that Mahmoud Ahminajihadmood has a blog? Seriously.