Friday, May 2, 2008

Parvum Opus 276 ~ Standardized Egotesting


Number 276


Punctuation, Comma, Placement of, Curious

Mark Steyn (whose excellent book America Alone is now out in paperback) wrote about a first grader accused of sexual harassment:

"Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive." The curiously placed comma might also be offensive were it not that school officials are having to spend so much of their energies grappling with the First Grade sexual-harassment epidemic they can no longer afford to waste time acquiring peripheral skills such as punctuation.

Actually, that structure sounds like part of an inventory of legal offenses: Sexual Touching Against Student, Inoffensive, might precede it alphabetically.

Dennis Prager interviewed Steyn on his free speech troubles in Canada (April 21, hour 3)

Need Mellowed

Dave DaBee wrote about someone he used to know who

endured a fair amount of disgust from me about using the rural Pennsylvania construction "needs cleaned," "needs picked up," etc. I presumed for no particular reason that it was Pennsylvania Deutsch, like other expressions from that area.

Could be, though Fred and I both think we've used the aforementioned colloquialism, "needs" plus a participle. But I was surprised at such an extreme reaction as "disgust" in the more than amiable Dave DaBee. He tells me his attitudes were majorly adjusted by a Landmark course. When I was young, hearing someone use non-standard English sometimes made me feel superior. It took me quite a while to figure out why not everyone had the same tastes as I did, why they didn't read as much as I did or the same things, and why not everyone wanted to be an English major. Which is why people hate English teachers. I don't think engineers and history majors have that snotty attitude about their subjects. I got over it when I became a teacher, and used to feel merely frustrated at times. Now, while I don't enjoy real illiteracy, poor logic, and so on ~ I can't stop writing about it ~ I enjoy regionalisms and other variants.

For instance, Fred used to work with a guy who'd say things like "Go open the door for he can get in" (instead of "so he can get in"). This might also be some vernacular echo of, say, a German construction. Fred thinks it sounds quaint.

Mark Steyn, in an interview on Boston's AM680 WRKO, said "I et what they et" (about his visit to Guantanamo). "Et" is an archaic past tense of "eat", heard sometimes instead of "ate" in the U.S. (as sub-standard English) only in the south or in the mountains; it's apparently still extant in England, where Steyn grew up. You might find that form in Jane Austen or other old English lit.

Here's another recent example of something I wrote about once before: a man from Texas said, "I think that's something you and your dad might could do something with." Might could is a substandard construction, heard in certain regions. We would correctly say perhaps could to combine the senses of possibility and ability, but "perhaps" sounds very formal, even pretentious, to some people. Maybe could would be a sort of half-way point between the two. In might could the word "might" is used as an adverb rather than an auxiliary verb.


Garner's Usage Tip of the Day listed "inexpense" as a nonword and an unnecessary coinage, whose place is better filled by "low cost" or something like that (e.g., "The relative inexpense [read 'affordability'] with which a band can record and manufacture a disc has blown open the playing field to anyone with a credit card."]

When I see "inexpense" I don't think of a noun form of "inexpensive" (which would be the awkward "inexpensiveness"), it makes me think the opposite of expense (expenditure), which is no expense. No cost, not low cost. It's not so much that it's not a logical construction, but that it conflicts with what's already developed in this word family.

Radio Callers Phone It In

||| Egotestical is an over-confident nut (referring to the Irrev. Jeremiah Wright).

||| "I disagree with anything that's negative." (Including this statement?)*

||| There's a 12-step group for compulsive talkers called Anonanonanonanon. (Reminds me of Dave DaBee's bananananana tic.)

The Great Egotest

Speaking of the Great Egotest, Jeremiah Wright's recent triumphalist declamation to the National Press Club (find it on revealed more of his interesting takes on a number of subjects, such as education. Black and white people actually have different brains, Wright says, and black people think more with their right brains. This is why black children learn differently, cannot be expected to sit still in class, and do poorly in an educational system designed by and for the white brain. Check the article by Heather MacDonald in City Journal:

When he was of school age in Philadelphia following the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision, Wright said, his white teachers "freaked out because the black children did not stay in their place, over there, behind the desk." Instead, the students "climbed up all over [the teachers], because they learned from a 'subject,' not an 'object.'"

Thus, according to Wright, black children are all little Helen Kellers.

Mad Anthony Wayne Rides Again

Last weekend I went to a writers' conference for the first time in several years, the third annual Mad Anthony writers' conference in Hamilton, Ohio. It was small and the speakers were not famous, but it was interesting and useful. One of the best workshops, "Murder and Mayhem", was a panel of local law types such as are often assembled for writers' conferences: a coroner, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a police detective, an arson detective, and a DNA expert. They're not writers but they answer a lot of questions for people who write crime fiction. Even if you don't write, it would be worth going to one of those workshops just to listen to people like that: experienced, smart, tough-minded.

The other workshops generally offered practical advice about publishing as well as specific writing tips. I didn't go to the workshop on creating characters, but while it's true that a good fictional character is not simply a stereotype, stereotyping is unavoidable. I came up with a little game for you to test your own stereotyping. It's a sort of double blind experiment because you have to guess two things. First, one of the workshop presenters, a writer, characterized a certain political commentator on a certain cable network, as well as a certain political party, as "evil", saying "All evil sticks together". Can you figure out:

1. Which network and which party was called evil (evil is the key word)? (You don't have to pick just one commentator.)

2. Then, which presenter made that remark?

a. A less famous novelist sister of famous writer Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail), who does book reviews for the Boston Globe. (Their parents wrote the Spencer-Tracey classic, Desk Set.) It was Nora Ephron who recently said that white male voters will demonstrate whom they hate more, blacks or women, in the upcoming elections (at least in the primaries; she didn't mention white men hating old people).

b. A clergyman who wrote a history of his conversion (you guess what he converted from and to).

c. A tall, black, ambitious, self-identified in-your-face radical lesbian writer/editor, with 1/8-inch-long hair, wearing camouflage-print cut-off pants, a pale pink sweater with the Lacoste alligator logo, and small gold earrings.

d. An attractive but slightly sad looking woman with a day job in marketing who gave a workshop on writing humor. She promotes her memoirs with "beach party" trinkets in bars and copyrighted the slogan "Will dance for margaritas".

e. Any of the legal personnel in the "Murder and Mayhem" workshop.

3. Which of these was not a real presenter?

Answers next week.

Bleak of the Week Movie Picks

American Dreamz: Funny Bush parody, where he ends up saying about the Middle East, "The problems there will never, never, never be solved."

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: Do not discuss among yourselves.

Idiocracy: Duuuuude!

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