Friday, April 4, 2008

Parvum Opus 272 ~ American Tongues


Number 272

April 4, 2008



"My truth is that I am a gay American," announced James McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey. He and his wife have since announced more lurid truths. Mark Steyn, as usual, cuts to the heart of the matter:

That's such an exquisitely contemporary formulation: "my" truth. Once upon a time, there was only "the" truth.

Right. If you catch your child in a lie, for instance, try saying, “Tell me your truth, now, Jimmy.”

A writer named Misha Defonseca recently admitted that her story about living with wolves as a little Jewish girl during the Holocaust wasn’t true. I saw Defonseca in a bookstore in Boston some years ago, talking about her book, and I believed her. It was a bizarre story but I figured there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in my philosophy. She said the story seemed true to her:

There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world. The story in the book is mine. It is not the actual reality ~ it was my reality, my way of surviving.

She felt Jewish though she isn’t, and she is an animal lover. I guess.

Remember the cliché “speaking truth to power”? It’s been popping up lately, around the Irrev. Jeremiah Wright. I was surprised to read that the phrase came from the Quakers as far back as the 18th century. Speaking “truth” to power usually means speaking one’s opinion. Was the Irrev. Wright speaking truth when he thundered that the U.S. government created AIDS to kill black people? Considering how AIDS spreads, did he mean that most black Americans are promiscuous drug users? It’s possible to speak lies to power, and to the powerless as well.

Smokey Robinson spoke truth to at least a few people at a Def Poetry Jam. He rhymes about why he calls himself black rather than African-American. Pretty good. He also mentions the sad loss of the Amos and Andy TV show, when some great comic actors lost their jobs. Today, a show like Bill Cosby’s sitcom about the Huxtable family would draw complaints and protests because it’s not “real” while shows about poor blacks or black criminals draw complaints about negative stereotypes.


Mark Steyn wrote about William F. Buckley’s levels of diction in “The Monosyllabist”. Buckley was noted for his extensive vocabulary, but Steyn says that he chose the right word and the right degree of formality for each occasion. Although I always liked Robin Williams’ send-up of Buckley: “Let me axe you a question.”


Have you noticed the recent shift from “global warming” to “climate change”? I think this is because blaming cold weather on global warming was just confusing, but the climate-changers can still blame weather on carbon emissions rather than the sun or the ways of the world.


||| English teacher: I rose up into the air and flew out the window... You didn't notice this? ~Hunter College High. This could explain a lot about the language skills of today’s graduates.

||| Angry woman to friend: I have a contention with the way people pronounce my daughter's name. I did not name by daughter 'Lady Nasty'! I named my baby girl 'La Dynasty.'


Dave DaBee is doing yeoman’s work for the cause. He grumbled about this e-mail from EmailSherpa, which he said is a REALLY good company:

Marketers continue to hone in on the best ways to launch viral campaigns.

Dave wrote to “the competent and alert librarian at this excellent marketing company.”

Could you convince someone there that the expression is NOT “hone in,” it’s “home in”? “Hone” means to sharpen a knife. “Home in” means to close in on a target.

Their answer was, “I forwarded your comment on to our editorial department, they will make any necessary changes.” Every little bit helps.

By the way, says the origins of “yeoman” (farmer or common laborer) are obscure. Could it be the spiritual predecessor of “Yo, man!”? Recently I read that this usage of “yo” may come from the Italian (Italians in the U.S., that is) “uomo” (man) or possibly “giovane” (young man).

I notice, by the way, that in his e-mails Dave still types double spaces between sentences, which is what I learned to do when I took typing in high school. Word processing has led us to pretend we’re typesetters rather than just typists, thus the usual single spacing.


You can find segments of a documentary called American Tongues on The excerpts I saw were about various American accents, including my own Ohio accent, AKA Ohio River Valley.


Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, a children’s book by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd, assembles monologues by the inhabitants of a medieval English village. It’s apparently well researched, but gives such a bleak view of medieval, or any, life that I wouldn’t recommend it for very young children. It does bear out Jim Dixon’s tirade in Lucky Jim about the general filthiness and misery of medieval village life (nasty, brutish, and short) that was idealized by the artsy-craftsy academics lampooned in that book. According to Good Masters, for instance, when a man died, a lord had a right to take his most valuable animal. Sort of a forced inheritance. But what interested me was that this right was called “heriot”, which is the nom de plume of the beloved veterinarian writer, James Alfred Wight as James Herriott, who wrote All Creatures Great and Small and numerous other books.


News you can use as April 15 approaches: Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, said that paying taxes is voluntary. Once in a corporate training class the speaker tried to tell us that the difference between, say, criminals and government is that criminals use force. But law is always ultimately backed up by physical force. I am not calling governments criminal because of this, I’m just saying that was a faulty definition. And Harry Reid doesn’t understand what voluntary means.


Another free speech entry: A Dutch movie called Fitna is testing the limits of Islamic patience again. As someone recently said, many people who call Islam a religion of peace think of it as practically like the Quakers, but without that Quaker aggressiveness. Anyway, a Muslim spokesman, or at least a Muslim who spoke, estimated that only about 7% of Muslims are hard-core jihadists. That would come to about 70 million out of a billion (the silent majority).

Also, check out the interview with Walid Phares (see the April 2, hour 3 segment).


Discussing language, education, journalism, culture, and more, Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2008. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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