Friday, May 23, 2008

Parvum Opus 279 ~ The Ivory Factory


Number 279


Midwestahn Girl Arrives

From my son Jude’s blog:

At 1:30 PM on Sunday, 5/18/08 Kate became a "townie."

She admitted that while shuffling about the house, under her breath and to herself she uttered, "Where's my slippahs?"

The town, of course, is Bahston.


Peter Bronson of the Cincinnati Enquirer collected some acronyms from a web site, and I’m skimming from his work.

Bronson’s column starts out with a few from “the opinion business”:

DBI ~ Dull But Important (statistic such as the fact that the U.S. taxpayers spent “only” $338 billion last year on Medicaid, Medicare, and prescription drugs)

UBI ~ Useless But Interesting (e.g., the U. of Cincinnati gets fives times the amount of federal money as the Ohio National Guard)

From doctors and nurses:

AGA ~ Acute Gravity Attack (fell down)

From firefighters:

WUD ~ Woke Up Dead

From cops:

DWS ~ Driving While Stupid

From veterinarians:

DSTO ~ Dog Smarter Than Owner

Note that the phrases being acronymized are usually pretty amusing in themselves, but there’s something about an acronym that increases the humor exponentially, probably the sense of having something only insiders know. (Also, any “f” word is more amusing when merely alluded to.)

While surfing for funny professional acronyms, I veered off track when I found this, from a medical student:

I found two more comprehensive lists here and here, but they are a bit more on the profane/unprofessional side, as often seems to be any bored doctor’s want.

He meant “wont”, a word that (without apostrophe) isn’t used much anymore. It means custom or habit. allows four pronunciations of the vowel, but the sound clip says “wunt”, thus the med student’s spelling mistake. (Follow his links to lists of entertaining medical acronyms and slang.)

If Found

Want a new hobby? Write on the back all the currency you catch and release: “If found, return to...” with your address. See what happens. Fred and I got the idea after reading someone else’s message on a $5 bill posted in, but because it was a non-PC joke that might offend people, I’d have to buy some comedy credits before I could pass it on to you.


There’s a merlot from Napa Valley called Irony. Isn’t that really an East Coast thing?

Naval Regret

Bill R. wrote:

The only regret I have about never having had command of a group of ships is that I never had the opportunity to make the flag hoist signal which loosely translates as “Jesus Christ, what are you doing?”

It’s not too late, Bill. Get your own pennants and get busy.


A woman on TV used the word incent as a transitive verb several times (e.g., “It will incent them to study”). Incent is not really a word, though I’ve heard it before. It’s a back formation from incentive, the Latin root of which is, surprisingly, incentivus, from incinere, to strike up or set the tune; pref. in- + canere to sing. See Enchant, Chant. There was no need to invent this clumsy word to replace the serviceable motivate (or encourage, foster, galvanize, impel, incite, induce, influence, inspire, instigate, mobilize, nudge, persuade, prompt, propel, push, stimulate, or urge).

When people get tired of incent and don’t feel it sounds trendy enough, do you think they’ll invent a verb moment (stress on the second syllable), from momentum? Forget I ever said that.

Who Did It?

Dave DaBee said the oil companies pushed the terminology switch from “global warming” to “climate change”. Iain Murray, author of The Really Inconvenient Truths, said in an interview that the switch came from the other side (at about minute 5:55 in this Boston radio interview). Still don’t have specific sources ~ who said it first, when and where? The interesting thing is that both political sides can claim some ulterior motive for this sleight of jargon. All I’ve got to say is that this continues to be an unusually cold May.

Good quote from Murray: “Nature abhors a religious vacuum.” Anecdotal support: My avowedly atheistic French student is strongly though vaguely drawn to religions of ancient cultures. For instance, he visited a prehistoric Indian mound and said it was very spiritual. I asked if he made that remark from his own experience there, or from what he’d learned about the mounds, and he said of course he didn’t believe in any of that, it was just an idea. But he quite naturally desires meaning which so far has been unsatisfied. He’s fascinated by American Indians in general, and their totems and so on, though he thinks current religions are “old” thinking.

Roots of Wright

I know we’re done with this, but the Irrev. Jeremiah Wright dredged up a memory of San Francisco in the summer after the summer of love. I met lots of fun hippies that summer. One was a young black guy who used to go on about healthy food, particularly whole grains, and he’d come up with a theory that the government intentionally supplied white rice for schoolchildren’s lunches because it was less nutritious than brown rice, in order to weaken the kids, specifically black kids. It seems that I remember having white rice for lunch at schools in the South where there were no black students; must have been a mistake.

The Ivory Factory

“In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” (The Atlantic, June 2008; you can read it online) is by Professor X, an English teacher “at a private college and at a community college in the northeastern United States”. He writes anonymously because his thesis is that many of the students he teaches, especially in the evening classes, oughtn’t to be in college. They are forced to by economic pressures, and many fail. They want better jobs, or their jobs require coursework or a degree. But it is painfully obvious to Professor X ~ as it was to me a few years ago when I taught English composition at a local two-year college, about 20 years after my last job teaching college English ~ that few students should be there. They are not academic, not intellectually curious, and not, as Professor X suggests, willing to put in the years of hard work it takes to become a really educated person: a lifetime, really. They may or may not be intelligent. They may be able to learn such facts as can be recalled for a multiple-choice or short-answer test. And many people educate themselves outside the classroom. But some of his students can’t write, no matter how carefully and thoroughly they are taught how to organize a paragraph or even a sentence. One of his students didn’t even have basic computer skills to do research, although on the Web it’s vastly easier than the library research I did.

If they can’t write, they can’t think well enough to succeed in college, and indeed Professor X is firmer about flunking students than I was. When students used to ask me how to improve their writing ~ when neither details of grammar nor examples of logic gave them a hint ~ I always told them to read a lot, at which they groaned. If you don’t like to read widely, it’s pointless to aim for anything more abstract than technical knowledge, but unfortunately, tragically even, the notion of vocational education has become outmoded in the U.S. You can find a few specialized English classes called Business Writing or English for Engineers, and everyone agrees that the ability to “communicate” ~ that is, to make sense when you speak and write ~ is important. But if someone hasn’t learned to make sense verbally by the time she finishes high school, it’s probably too late.

Professor X feels that even the police officer in class or the bank teller ought to have at least a practical interest in certain literature that makes a social statement, but I think there he neglects the beauty and universality of great literature that lift it beyond practical matters. Schools now are mostly about the practical politics of qualifying for a better job, better than whatever it is you’re doing now. That’s trade school, which is a good thing, but how many students care to learn about great ideas?

I foresee a day when a college education will be considered not only a right for everyone but possibly even a requirement, continuing the postponement of adulthood at enormous and increasing expense. If the reading comprehension of high school grads matched the highest level of the old McGuffey’s Readers, college wouldn’t be necessary for most people.


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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