Friday, May 9, 2008

Parvum Opus 277 ~ High-Toned Vagaries


Number 277



Vagary does not mean vagueness, which I believe Ted Belman meant in describing Barack Obama’s oratory as being full of high-toned vagaries. It means change, changeability, whim. (Belman was quoting someone else but I can’t find that original source.)

To Whom Much

Have you stumbled over this old adage, as I have?

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”

If you parse out that commonly used hash, you easily see the error:

Much is expected [of the person] to whom much is given.

I was happy to find that I’m not the only one who’s noticed that it’s ungrammatical. A more thorough discussion of it identifies the original quote in Luke 12:48, which in the King James Version is:

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.


It’s becoming clear to me that diversity doesn’t really mean variety anymore. In practice it always means other, specifically other than the majority of the population, which is obligated to adapt to the other, not the other way around. In your own home, you are not diverse and you have to bend to the other or become other, according to diversity law. Somehow this brought to mind what mathematician and surrealist Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice Through the Looking Glass:

"It's very good jam," said the Queen.

"Well, I don't want any to-day, at any rate."

"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam to-day."

"It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’," Alice objected.

"No it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every other day; to-day isn't any other day, you know."

"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing."

I think the logic here is the same. Diversity’s like the guy you talk to at a party who’s always looking over your shoulder for somebody better. Or different.

Diversity also now means, in actual practice, that nothing is better than another thing, including a culture (or faith tradition) that insists it is the only thing ~ except if you have a criticism; that’s worse and unacceptable. Diversity in political opinion means left is right and the rest are evil (a la the diverse radical lesbian at the writer’s conference).

In other words, stop whatever you’re being and be something else. Be diverse. If you’re not, you know who you are, so stop it.

Diversity training in the next phrase won’t be about getting people not to insult each other (except it’s OK to insult white men, who already know how to insult each other with skill, humor, and vigor; nothing like a clean fistfight to clear the air). Diversity training will be about making everybody be different, like musical identity chairs.

The Quiz

Dave DaBee did a good job of solving last week’s little puzzle:

Fox is the evil network. (What other network has a moral reputation among some?) The radical lesbian or the minister would call it evil. (I have an uncle like that. A pious lay blame-slinger.) Nora Ephron's sister [is invented].

btw, I seem to be the only one who, upon first hearing Nora's name, instantly thought it's a pen name, a joke. (Really, I did.) Nora Pen Ephron. (Norepinephrine / noradrenaline.)

Dave got two out of three. The evil newscaster was Sean Hannity and everyone on Fox and pretty much all Republicans and conservatives. The lesbian writer called millions of people evil. But the ringer was the converted clergyman; he was an invention. Hallie Ephron is a real sister of Nora Ephron.

Dave also pointed out that the coined noun should have been “egotesticle” rather than “egotestical”. Since I picked that up from a radio program, it was my error to spell it -cal, since it was intended to be a noun. Egotesticle it is.

Dave added, Are anonanonanons all nicknamed "Skipper"? Anonanonanons lead naturally to onomatopoeia, which I did not have to look up to spell. Actually it was the birds that made me think of it, this morning before dawn when they started singing, or chirping or tweeting. If early humans developed speech* by imitating nature sounds, as some theory has it, then the first speech was not based on thought (a behavior which clearly continues in the genetic lineage). I’d have a hard time trying to imitate bird calls, but it’s tempting to try to communicate with other creatures. Humans are lucky to be able to understand each other at all, when clearly we didn’t succeed with the animals, or else gave it up. I met an itinerant hippy once who said he could talk with garden plants. He’d get down real close to them and they’d let him know when they needed water. It was human speech he had problems with. He asked if he could bring anything to a potluck, and I said how about fruit or fruit juice. He brought a squash.

*The origin of human speech has a word, glottogony. Why does it need one word? I suppose so scientists who speak different languages can feel comfortable. (And why is speech spelled with two Es while speak is spelled EA?)


Thinking of freight trains today, and why not, I started to wonder about the etymology of freight, if it’s related to fraught, etc. gives: F. fret, OHG. fr[=e]ht merit, reward. Fraught has: Akin to Dan. fragte, Sw. frakta, D. bevrachten, G. frachten, cf. OHG. fr[=e]ht[=o]n to deserve. Obviously the same root. Then I thought, what about the vulgarism frig, a word that never entered my vocabulary and for which I can’t find an etymology. It’s like the British bloody; I know what it means but I wasn’t raised with it, and it seems even the English don’t find it as offensive as they once did. Neither word carries any emotional impact for me. But getting back to freight/fraught/frig, might there be a connection? I don’t get the “merit” sense but the more recent sense of carrying something might work for all three.

I’m Questioning

Bumper sticker: “Question consumption.” It used to be “Question authority” but now authority wags its finger at consumption. I was amused recently to find that some environmental questions aren’t met enthusiastically even by people who think I’m a troglodyte about environmental matters, such as, how about hanging your clothes outside on clotheslines? I ask that only because I like doing it when I can (which I can’t where I live now). It’s a pleasant chore in good weather and it makes the clothes smell good. But ... it takes more time. It’s inconvenient. Can’t do it in wet weather. Our forebears hung laundry indoors in wet weather, and unfroze it in the winter by ironing everything, including towels. How come they had more time than we do? Anyway, maybe we could buy carbon credits to compensate for dryers, or better yet, hire third-world labor to hang the clothes out for us.

I’m questioning light bulbs too. We changed out almost all our old-style bulbs for the cute new curly ones, and indeed have saved on the electric bill, plus they never seem to burn out. But now we find that they have mercury in them, and can be dangerous.

How about questioning the wasteful use of bumper stickers? They’re dangerous too, because I always try to read them while I’m driving, as well as tricky license plate numbers. I think I’ll make up new bumper stickers for my CafePress shop: “Question vanity plates” and “Question bumper stickers”.

How to Snafu

“They’re gonna screw up a one-car funeral.” (heard on Boston radio)

“They could screw up a steel ball.” (heard from Fred)


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.

Link here to look for books on!

Or click on underlined book links.

T-SHIRTS AND OTHER STUFF AT Parvum Opus CafePress shop:

"Flash in the Pants"

"If you're so smart why aren't you me?"

"If you build it they won't come"

Rage Boy/Bat Boy: Can you spot the difference?

Akron U. Alma Mater: The Lost Verse

PWE (Protestant Work Ethic) tote bag

"I am here" T-shirt

"Someone went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"

"I eat dead things" doggy shirt and BBQ apron

Plus kids’ things, mouse pad, teddy bear, coffee mugs, beer stein, and more!

PLUS Scot Tartans T-shirts and more (custom orders available).


Parvum Opus now appears at It is also carried by the Hur Herald, a web newspaper from Calhoun County, West Virginia. See Editor Bob Weaver's interview with me (February 10, 2007 entry), and the PO every week in Columns.

No comments: