Friday, April 25, 2008

Parvum Opus 275 ~ Powerlines and Buzz Words


Number 275


Easy Virtue

Regarding the April 21 Time magazine cover using the famous photo of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, with a tree standing in for the flag (you know which flag I mean), do you think they will be handing out Purple Hearts to people for buying carbon credits? Greenness has already been turned into a religious practice; remember the English cleric who heard people's recycling confessions? Now it's also a substitute for patriotism, heroism, and sacrifice. People used to call certain women, "women of easy virtue". Easy virtue takes on a new meaning now.

I'd Like To Go Back There: Barn, Beach, Backyard

In honor of Earth Day, which was Tuesday, April 22, I'm calling our cat Earthy Kitt. Sometimes he (or she, we're not sure and have too much delicacy to do a thorough examination) comes in smelling like what I remember a barn smells like, but most likely he's been under the porch. It's been many years since I was in my grandfather's barn in Calhoun County, West Virginia, but I remember the smell: old wood, straw, cows, tobacco twists hung up to dry. There used to be an old hardware store in Lawrence, Kansas, that had an old-store smell very hard to find today: old wood floor, dust, paint, and, well, hardware. It was there just ten years ago or so, don't know if it is still.

Earth Day makes me think not so much of recycling paper and bottles, but of being physically closer to the earth, as I was when I was a kid. Although those old wood buildings aren't the earth itself, they smelled closer to it than the new stores.

For a large part of my childhood, I spent a lot of time at the beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Is there anyone who doesn't know what the ocean smells like?

When I was really little, I was rolling around in the grass, looking at bugs, tasting selected weeds, drawing in the dirt.

If I could hang my laundry outside to dry, I would, because it makes everything smell so good. One of the few household chores I really enjoy. I think I'll celebrate Earth Day by seeing if it's possible to get this town to allow people to hang their clothes on clotheslines. I'm writing to the mayor; maybe I'll draw up a petition ~ I've signed a few in my life but never originated one ~ and if you like hanging your clothes outside, maybe you can do it in your town too.

As for Earthy Kitt, its previous owner, who abandoned it in favor of a new puppy, said its name was Jack. We can't find any clinical evidence of either Jack or Jackie attributes, so we think Jack was neutered. But there's no reason he can't have more than one name, as T. S. Eliot taught us in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which inspired the Broadway musical Cats. Anyway, one way Earthy Kitt pays for his keep is by bringing the outdoors in.


Released just is Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History by Steve Cone, on successful sales and political slogans. Dennis Miller interviewed him. I haven't heard any really good slogans in this political campaign, although everyone has had time and money enough to come up with something.


||| If you don't like Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories, are you anti-semantic? (Can't remember where I heard that one.)

||| Considering recent murders there, is it time for us to pull out of Chicago? (Dennis Miller)

||| Some super-vegetarians say they refuse to eat anything that has a face. Would this be an edible complex? (Mine)

Buzz Words

My old friend and English class veteran Pat Geiger sent this:

Here is the Beacon Journal's latest ~ story on the front page about some barber in Barberton (where else?!!). The writer of the story said that two of the children in the shop "need rescued from their mother's attempted buzz cut"!!! I wrote them an email ~ said the writer ought to think about the fact that she "needs tutored in grammar"!!!

Glad she's carrying on the fight. To be honest, I think I have used that construction. But if so, I was wrong, and I found an explanation in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, p. 656:

In its function as an auxiliary it does not inflect and is followed by the bare infinitive without to: "No pressure group need apply." (Harry S. Truman). The finite verb does inflect; when followed by an infinitive, it requires to: "The church bells needed to ring three times." (Virginia Black) It can also be followed by a gerund: "The facts are too well known to need repeating here." (Tip O'Neill)

The offending sentence should have been, as Pat told the journalist, "need to be rescued" or possibly "need rescuing".

Ee, Ive, Ful

Rich Lederer wrote about "attendee" and like formations:

Suffixes, like words themselves, often carry more than one meaning, as in English / reddish and spinster / dumpster. Although -ee usually signifies "one who receives action," the meaning "one who acts" has been around a long time in words other than attendee (1937). Witness conferee (1771), escapee (1866), absentee (1605), and patentee (15th century).

I should have at least remembered escapee and absentee, though the others are strangers to me.

Unrelated note: I heard somebody say "restive" instead of "restful", but "restive" does not mean "restful" though both suffixes can mean having the quality of or being in a state of.


Dave DaBee sent miscellaneous comments:

||| My daughter Lindsey did indeed learn to write letters in elementary school, but that was ~15 years ago, just as email was coming on the scene. She's a surprisingly articulate writer ~ as I may have told you, once I did a (covert) paid plagiarism search on one of her first biology papers because I'd never seen her do science writing and it was startlingly clear and concise. (Perhaps a B/B+ for sophistication of composition, but solid A on most scales, and probably better than B for a 9th-10th grader.)

||| Red-eye at Starbucks is coffee with a shot of espresso, as something to wake you up when you're still red-eyed. (A black-eye is two shots of espresso.) Sometimes, like today on the NJ Turnpike, I forget and use the synonym used at Caribou Coffee in Minnesota: a depth charge.

||| My impression (personally) is that assertions about bitter poor people apply equally to blacks and whites. Note: I did not just say anything about non-bitter poor people. Has anyone observed, btw, the parallel between Obama's words and Marx's "opiate of the masses"?

Yes, others noticed that Marxian echo. I think Obama's remarks about poor white people's guns and religion are projection on his part, considering his own church and considering the gun culture of Chicago. Jeremiah Wright, by the way, has inspired our local anonymous writer of political fliers, which he sticks into the windows of newspaper boxes; this week's was something about "Why should God bless America?", based on bad statistics on hunger in the U.S. If you accept Wright's premises (and Michelle Obama's), what must it be like not to have a country to love? If I examine my own conscience, I do not ask God to damn me for my flaws; no more would I damn my country.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning ~ Parvum Opus discusses 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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