Friday, June 27, 2008

Parvum Opus 284 ~ Find Shades of Meaning


Number 284


Word of the Week

Reactionary. Mike Sykes sent OED definitions (shorter and online) for redneck giving one definition as reactionary; redneck is “originally, and still often, derogatory, but now also used with more sympathy for the aspirations of the rural American.” Mike added, “Who’s to say?” to which I reply, I am to say.

Reactionary and redneck are still both derogatory. Paul Greenburg’s praise of rednecks, which I quoted last week, confused redneck with hillbilly, however, so let’s start by distinguishing the two. A redneck has a red neck from working outside in the sun all the time. A hillbilly lives in the Appalachians or Ozarks, which are not as sunny as the flatlands. Somehow people who live in the Rocky Mountains or further west are not hillbillies. Both rednecks and hillbillies are generally Scotch-Irish. I think they tended to immigrate to the kinds of landscapes they were familiar with. The mountain people preferred a more isolated locale that fit with their independent character. Rednecks are really flatlanders. (For a good historical take on the difference in cultures, read Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Ballad of Frankie Silver.)

So why are either or both of these groups called reactionary? Per Wikipedia, the word reactionary goes back to the French Revolution ~ what else. More recently, it was widely used by Marxists to refer to anyone who reacted against rapid, sweeping changes of society from the top down. With that word in your arsenal, you don’t have to discuss issues: just call someone a reactionary and everyone automatically knows that he is ignorant and bigoted. This posits the rightness and righteousness of everything new, progressive, or “subversive”, to use the trendier word, and anyone who prefers to hold on to his own thinking or way of life is naturally primitive and can be discounted, or even disappeared (often the preferred solution: “Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” ~ Joseph Stalin.)

If the Greeks didn’t actually use the word, they considered Socrates a reactionary nonetheless (see The Searching Mind of Greece, John M. Warbeke, quoted in Wikipedia). A recent shining example was when Barack Obama referred to small-town white people who clutch their guns and Bibles to their bosoms out of economic desperation, because they don’t know no better. Diversity doesn’t mean them and “the people” aren’t those people.

Websters 3rd, 9th, and New Collegiate dictionaries do not use the pejorative “reactionary” as a definition of redneck. Why, Fred asks, has this word suddenly entered many lexicons as a synonym for backwards or uneducated?

This political term has entered ordinary vocabulary, like bourgeois, progressive, and so on, and is used every day, like the time a friend called me elitist as a sort of political insult. I’ve been called worse.

Corex from Mike

Steady on! You can't bivouac anyone in a house. “Originally, a night-watch by a whole army under arms, to prevent surprise; now, a temporary encampment of troops in the field with only the accidental shelter of the place, without tents, etc.; also the place of such encampment.” ... but you can billet them. I was billeted as an evacuee in 1939, to avoid German bombs.

Habla ingles? Is that a trick question?

ProEnglish and fifteen other organizations protested the Administration’s policy of letting Mexican truck drivers demonstrate their required English proficiency by answering questions in Spanish. (from The ProEnglish Advocate)

Hmm. Seems counterintuitive, but at least no Mexican truck driver’s self-esteem has been injured in the administering of that test. When I took Spanish and German in school, it never occurred to me to try answering in English.


The Democratic National Convention coming up in Denver has a green czar or something like that: “Our mission is to produce the most environmentally sustainable political convention in modern American history.” That sounds like the convention is to be sustained, which considering we’re in a two-year campaign may really be the goal.

The Denver Post reported that “caterers must provide foods in "at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white," garnishes not included. Arugula is green, but as Obama reminded us, the people in this great nation of ours are suffering from the increased cost of arugula. Don’t even ask about organic arugula.

Fried food is verboten at the convention, at least verboten to committee higher-ups, but as usual, the po’ folks will be eating cheaper fried food, which is the staple of most traditionally Democrat southerners. Comfort food. Fried. Reminds me of a little restaurant I always call the home of the all-beige meal. Good.

No one has figured out yet whether paper or plastic is the more moral choice, but the DNC will do so, at their next non-prayer breakfast in a non-smoke-filled room.

Find Shades of Meaning

My student from India asked me if it’s OK to use phrases like black and white at work, or are they offensive to black people. We have so many ancient idioms that refer to black and white, dark and light, and often darkness is used negatively: black list, black heart, and indeed there have been racial complaints. But there’s also in the black (as opposed to in the red) ~ meaning profitable. We’re not changing ink colors. The cowboy in the black hat was usually the bad guy in Westerns, but I always had a thing for the guys in black like Zorro, the Cisco Kid, Paladin, and of course Johnny Cash, the Man in Black.

My brother was accosted in a high-school boys’ room once by a black kid who asked menacingly, “What color am I? What color are you?” My brother said something like brown and beige, which wasn’t the answer the kid wanted. Instead of talking about shades of gray, maybe we should switch to shades of beige.

Obama, the great racial healer, is making people awfully nervous. David Paul Kuhn, a political writer, talking about the campaign on the radio, said, “If Obama becomes the boy who cries wolf ~ and I’m not calling him a boy, I’m referring to the story ...” Kuhn was afraid to use the word boy, from the ancient Aesop fable, let alone black.

I Can Quit Any Time

I keep hearing people say “We’re addicted to oil.” You might as well say that cavemen were addicted to wood for fire. Addicted implies either illness or moral weakness, depending on your take on addiction. We simply use a lot of energy, but everyone else in the world uses as much as they can. No point in beating ourselves up for being so busy. We’re all “addicted” to various forms of energy, like food. The word “does not further”, as the I Ching says about so many things.

Never Mind

The online book club I mentioned last week is a bust. They only send five days of excerpts from the beginning of books, to entice you into buying the books. Fair enough, but not what I expected.


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. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. 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.


Veritas Vincit (Truth Conquers) with Keith clan Catti insignia

Flash in the Pants

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

If you build it they won't come (border fence)

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

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!

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

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Parvum Opus 283 ~ 'Tis a Gift to Be Simplex


Number 283


Elegy for Copy Editors

Dave DaBee referred us to a good article in The New York Times, “Elegy for Copy Editors” by Lawrence Downes, who calls Web journalism “that world of the perpetual present tense”. (I’ve used the phrase “the eternal present tense” before, but I meant the use of the present tense not only as a literary device ~ a cheap trick to add a phony literary quality to prose that the simple past would not ~ but also as a constant habit of news reporters to report recent past or long past events, as in “Elvis dies”.)

I sent a potential client a rationale for editing to give to her potential grant providers for the project:

||| Why do places I’ve worked at such as Harvard, MIT, Lycos, large corporations, small magazines, nonprofit fundraisers, advertisers, and so many other entities hire editors? Because while content is primary, presentation is also important to convince readers of the integrity of the material.

||| Some things the average reader won't notice consciously, but most readers are unconsciously made uneasy by errors. If you expect your book to be taken seriously and respected by historians, librarians, and other writers, as well as non-professional readers, you have to be professional. A reader who questions your grammar will also question your facts and your thinking.

||| What difference does it make if a word is misspelled or a graphic is misplaced, as long as the meaning is clear? Sometimes the meaning is not clear. And as I used to ask my students, what difference does it make if someone misspells or mispronounces your name?

||| Even good writers need editors. It's hard to edit your own work because you know in your mind what should be there on the page; you're too familiar with the material so you skim over it more quickly with every re-reading.

||| Errors are distracting. One mistake, a tiny fraction of a percentage of all the words in a book, pops out of the page more vibrantly than all those other correct words. Artistic mistakes could be attributed to artistic license, if they’re even perceived, but misspellings usually cannot.

5-Minute Read

Dear Reader is an online book club that will e-mail a brief selection daily from a book in the genre you choose. I subscribed in order to find new mystery writers to like. Other publishers’ book clubs are listed at the bottom of the linked page, but I haven’t checked them out yet. I notice that spam-ban words are dealt with the way I sometimes deal with them: h ell and d amn, for instance.

Simplistic vs. Simple

This week I heard two instances of one of my peeves, simplistic used in place of simple:

(Decorator) Swedish style is very simplistic.

(Doctor) I’ll explain (cholesterol) in very simplistic terms. ... It’s a pretty simplistic term.

Simplistic means unrealistically simple, oversimplified, not the same as plain old simple. Think: simple = good, simplistic = bad.

A college friend (the late Dave Paulo, for those of you who knew him) invented the word simplex as a corollary to complex, and amused himself by using it on a job application, as well as “adaptable plasticity”, a quality he thought he had. However, it turns out that simplex is a real word, but has technical meanings. So, simplex = don’t use it unless you work in technical communications or linguistics.


Paul Greenberg wrote “Apologia Pro Redneck, or: In Defense of a Word ~ and a People” that’s so good I have to quote at length, in defense of my people; Fred’s people too. (Ignore the photo on the web page; that doesn’t look like my kin. That I know of.) This editorial appears on some sites with the head “Enough Verbicide”.

Who are these rednecks anyway? One inadequate definition would be to say they're the descendants of the Scots-Irish who pushed the American frontier across first the Appalachians and then ever westward, spreading as far north as the hills of Pennsylvania and as far south and west as wide-open Texas, leaving their manners, speech and customs an indelible if often unremarked part of the American character.

Oh, yes, rednecks are also fighters. Which means that, ignored and snubbed in times of peace, or just patronized by those who think their very name an insult, they are always called on when the country's in real trouble. To this day, they are part of the backbone of the United States military. They are, in short, people to tie to. They will stand their ground, as America's enemies have discovered since 1776 and long before. They need no one to come to their defense, let alone shield them from their honest name. Yes, they can be touchy, but only about matters of honor.

Do the Yankee

In his memoir, We’ll Always Have Cleveland, Les Roberts writes:

The Gund Arena, named after the Gund family who owned the Cavaliers for many years, changed its name to Quicken Loans Arena. The new owner, Dan Gilbert, also owns Quicken Loans.

You can’t even ascribe this hideousness to vanity. It could just as easily have become the Gilbert arena and Dan Gilbert wouldn’t even have had to change the initial on the towels.

Roberts named one of his novels The Dutch after he learned that “to do the Dutch” means to commit suicide. For some reason idioms with “Dutch” in them are usually negative, as in Dutch uncle, Dutch treat, Dutch rub.

“Yankee” probably has a Dutch origin, as a nickname for John, pronounced Yahn. The Dutch, of course, settled New York. Luckily we Yankees aren’t called Dutch now. Let’s invent a new saying, “do the Yankee”. What might it mean? It has to be something good.

Driving Truck

Heard on radio: “My husband and I both drive truck.” This formulation, instead of “drive trucks” or “drive a truck” is peculiar to the profession. (Also, “drive bus”, which I heard from my school-bus driving sister-in-law and her co-workers.) This might be seen as a reversal of the common formation of noun-as-adjective plus active agent, or compound noun, “truck driver”. Or the object of the verb, truck or bus, perhaps has been turned into a category noun rather than a specific item. I don’t know if the usage exists in other professions: “I teach student” or “I write program” doesn’t work, for instance.

Have His Carcase

Do you know what habeas corpus means? I thought I did. Something to do with having the body. Dorothy Sayers’ mystery Have His Carcase [sic] refers to the usefulness of actually having a dead body in order to prove murder. But it also seems to have something to do with the law having your carcase for too long, without trial.

The subject came up since some judges have reversed eons of precedent to allow prisoners of war the same legal rights as citizens, and more legal rights than our soldiers. They’ve outstripped even Geneva Convention requirements for treatment of POWs. We may introduce quartering of enemy combatants in private homes. Sort of an exchange program. After all, the American Revolution was partly about not having British soldiers bivouacked in your house; nobody said anything about POWs.

Dennis Miller noted that the excellent HBO series, John Adams, opened with Adams defending British soldiers against charges of murder in the Boston Massacre. However, technically we were still an English colony and not yet at war with England, so it was a case of domestic law.

I don’t see how you can apply one country’s laws to non-citizen combatants, even if they’re clever enough not to put on uniforms. From his own point of view, the combatant or terrorist is doing the right thing according to his orders or his religion. It’s just that we don’t want him to kill us, which is a more than fair point of view.

Migrant Firm Workers

Dea R., who lives in California, sent Job Market 2009 on YouTube. A Mexican with a pickup truck loads up suited Anglo executives for day work in accounting, marketing, etc. Cute, but not likely. I saw a cartoon like this years ago captioned “Migrant Firm Workers”.

New on Cafepress

New for carnivores in my Cafepress shop: “I eat dead things” items with a photo of a turkey vulture (photo by Robert Bernstein for the Vulture Society, which I bet you didn’t know existed).


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. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. 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.


Veritas Vincit (Truth Conquers) with Keith clan Catti insignia

Flash in the Pants

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

If you build it they won't come (border fence)

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

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!

ALSO 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.

WHEN SONNY GETS BLUE! Check out the video and music clips of great blues man Sonny Robertson and the Howard Street Blues Band at and, with his new original song, "A Different Shade of Blue".

PEACE MISSION INDIA blogs the progress of Pastor Roy Jacob’s mission to build churches in India. Now 79, Pastor Roy (who is an Indian) has built 10 churches, and has a girls’ school to rescue girls from the mountains and jungles who otherwise might be married off as children or perhaps sold.

SEARCH IT OUT ON AMAZON : "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." Proverbs 25:2; "Get wisdom! Even if it costs you everything, get understanding!" Proverbs 4:7:

The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is not composed of atoms, but stories. The physicist Werner Heisenberg said the universe is not made of matter, but music.

Go to Babelfish to translate this page into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Parvum Opus ~ Fecieval Studies


Number 282


The Cliché Community

The June 2, 2008 issue of The Weekly Standard was great for redundant English majors like me.

In “The Cliché Community” Andrew Ferguson writes about the newer cliches that litter journalism, which is, of course, the dominant cliché community. One of the older examples is really a sort of euphemism: issue, which replaces words like difficulty, problem, or failing. I think this must have been an outgrowth (sort of like a wild hair or a wart) of the psyche-speak that proliferated starting with the ‘60s. Problems are so negative, so judgmental. Issue was quickly superseded by challenge, which is even more cheery, and sounds as if you should get at least a bronze medal for it. I don’t see any particular reason for global to have replaced international ~ it sounds geophysical ~ and as for pivot, I’m not sure what it means besides doing a 180 in your politspeak.

In the same issue, Charlotte Allen writes about the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies held in Kalamazoo (where I hope that all who wanted them had gals). Even medievalists have been whacked by the magic wand of postmodernism. That is, even the Middle Ages must be interpreted in terms of Marxist theory, and scholars desperate for tenure and a topic that hasn’t already been gone over with a fine-tooth comb come up with specialties such as fecopoetics, also subject to class analysis (i.e. if you have reservations about excremental speech, you’re bourgeois, a common insult* from my bourgeois college days). Sample scholarly paper: “Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics.”

Finally, a review by James Seaton of a couple of books by critic Edmund Wilson:

[Literary critic Lionel Trilling] in defending “the quality in Wordsworth that now makes him unacceptable” ~ Wordsworth’s “concern for the life of humbleness and quiet” ~... notes ruefully that “with us the basis of spiritual prestige is some form of aggressive action.”

On a cheerier note is the motto of a Minnesota high school: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (much like Superman’s Truth, Justice, and the American Way). But what happened to truth, beauty, and goodness, Dennis Prager asked following his address to their graduating class (June 10, hour 3). Now, art is not about beauty but about interrogating the crap out of society, said a local grad student who wanted to be subsidized for said interrogation; the same goes for truth and goodness. Truth is subverting the dominant paradigm. Beauty is what’s undressed in a hip-hop video. Goodness is self-esteem.

Uncommon Insult

*Another from reader David Rogerson’s list of classic insults:

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." ~ Winston Churchill

Charlie Chan

Peter Feng of the University of Delaware introduced a series of old movies on TCM with an Asian theme. Feng’s job was to point out stereotypes, but I think he himself is more contemporary American than traditional Chinese and possibly missed one or two points. I watched Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936) with Warner Oland (not an Asian) playing Chan. Feng thought the Chan character was obsequious or subservient, but Chan practiced what I always thought were traditional Chinese manners, polite and self-effacing, compared to the more blustery American style, while at the same time being, as Feng said, the smartest person in the room. When number one son made a fool of himself, I don’t think it was because, as Feng thought, one of the assimilating younger generation had to be made a buffoon in the movie; I think it was simply for comic relief, and to give his father more scope to display his patriarchal style.

Feng also commented on Charlie Chan’s “Confucius say” maxims, but one that he quoted was not intended to be Confucian. In the circus movie, Chan says there’s “more than one way to remove skin from cat.” This is a literal translation of “more than one way to skin a cat” by someone who isn’t familiar with “skin” as a verb. As an ESL teacher, I recognize the pattern.

Casting non-Asians to play Charlie Chan (Sydney Toler was another Chan), while Chan’s family were played by Asians, was a peculiar choice, but I don’t think everything, even in 1936, can be interpreted as some form of racism. If racism depends on the perception of the majority audience, I never saw Charlie Chan the way Feng does, even when I watched the movies as a kid.

My Funny Valentine

Every time I hear this terrific old standard, I’m confused by these rhetorical questions:

Is your figure less than Greek

Is your mouth a little weak

When you open it to speak

Are you smart?

Answers seem to be, yes, yes, and ... yes? Is intelligence supposed to be another endearing flaw in the funny valentine? Anyway, enjoy these versions by Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Throw Out the Lifeline

You never know what busy Dave DaBee will come up with. He thought I might have something to offer about a question on the lyrics of an old gospel song, “Throw Out the Lifeline” (is it about temperance or about spiritual sinking in general?). I don’t have an answer, but Ari Herzog seems to have done the research and has a good explanation in that blog. I found several versions of the song on YouTube but I like the Sallie Martin Singers’ rendition best.

Dave also sent a list of imponderables. Here are a few (warning: do not ponder).

||| If you take an Oriental person and spin him around several times, does he become disoriented?

||| Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist but a person who drives a racing car not called a racist?

||| Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposites?

||| Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?

||| Why isn't the number 11 pronounced onety one?

||| If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

||| What hair colour do they put on the driver's licences of bald men?

The Associated Press, by the way, did a story about the uses of the Internet by medical patients (CaringBridge, blogs, etc.) and interviewed our very own Dave. The story appeared early in Foster’s Daily Democrat (Laconia, NY).

Serial Comma

Caleb Stone weighed in on the serial comma (Should it be "consume, don't produce, and complain"?) He says no, don't use the comma, just rewrite the sentence so that it makes sense. I agree that's the best solution in this case, but I'm still standing tall for the serial comma.

True Story

Last week in the library, I overheard a man on a cell phone say, “Sorry about the noise, I’m in the library.” It was the children’s story hour and the children were not being shushed, of course, and this little library is built on the open-room plan.

Fallen Heroes

Perhaps Obama does have a presidential quality heretofore overlooked by me, as evidenced by this ringing peroration: “On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes ~ and I see many of them in the audience here today…” Maybe they’re gonna vote too.

Of course, fallen means dead in this context, but what did he mean by unbroken?


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Parvum Opus 281 ~ Fierce Rhetoric


Number 281



Dave DaBee passed on two good tips to us this week. First is an article in the New York Times by Susan Jacoby on the word “elite”. A choice excerpt:

After listening to one of my lectures, a college student told me that it was elitist to express alarm that one in four Americans, according to the National Constitution Center, cannot name any First Amendment rights or that 62 percent cannot name the three branches of government. “You don’t need to have that in your head,” the student said, “because you can just look it up on the Web.”

True, but how can an information-seeker know what to look for if he or she does not know that the Bill of Rights exists? There is no point-and-click formula for accumulating a body of knowledge needed to make sense of isolated facts.

This is just the latest in lame student excuses for ignorance of what should be essential knowledge.

I’ve written about the use of this word as a snide dismissal of anyone with a different point of view, and Jacoby covers the current political uses of “elite” pretty well. Several years ago I wrote about being called “elite” by a former friend because I intended to apply to a new graduate studies program built by a well-known feminist writer. I’m not sure whether my feminist former friend thought it was the fame of the professor that was elitist, or just the fact that I decided to continue my education instead of getting into one of the trade unions as my friend did. I considered it for a while, and I sure would have made more money had I become a tool and die maker. “Elitist” is all about politics, not reality. This same erstwhile friend said words were weapons, whereas I thought they were tools. As always, let’s look for elucidation from the word’s etymology, which is the Latin eligere, to choose. Nothing wrong with choosing, and why not choose the best, or most interesting, path available to you?

Dave’s other contribution is from the Wall Street Journal, an article by Rebecca Dana on the annual running of the English spelling reformers, from which I’ve pulled several quotes:

At least three major films about spelling have been made in recent years: "Bee Season," the documentary "Spellbound," and "Akeelah and the Bee." The hit Broadway musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" closed in January after 1,136 performances....

Elizabeth Kuizenga, a California teacher of English-as-a-second-language and the mother of the actress Rebecca Romijn (pronounced romaine) ... says she became interested in spelling reform as a child, when she mispronounced the word "ignorance" and her parents laughed at her. (Right, simplify spelling and you’ll never suffer embarrassment again. I mispronounced “Nova Scotia” (Nova Sco-tee-a) in fifth grade, but I got over it.)...

Noah Webster catapulted the movement into relevance in the 18th century, when he created a new, distinctly American orthography on a patriotic impulse, around the time of the Revolutionary War. Webster, who died in 1843, is why Americans write "color" instead of "colour" and "theater" instead of "theatre." He fought his whole life for government-mandated spelling reform and died despondent that it never happened....

The movement reached its apogee on Aug. 20, 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt, a terrible speller, officially changed the spelling of 300 English words. What seemed like a good idea ~ changing "through" to "thru," and so on ~ turned into a humiliating disaster. Newspapers mocked him as "Rozevult." Congress voted 142-24 to overturn the order. (Reminds me of when I worked at the Peninsula “Niteclub”. It was a pretty posh place but the revised spelling gave it a touch of trash.)...

Some consider English spelling beautiful because each word reflects its own evolutionary history. Others argue the idea of phonetic spelling fails to take dialect into account, since pronunciation varies widely from one English-speaking place to another. (Exactly right.)

Up Is Down, Fierce Is Not

Did you ever notice that a contemporary version of the old slang, to be “up for” something, is to be “down with” something? Maybe this is another example of reversing common meanings, as when bad means good. (Example, Michael Jackson singing “I’m bad.” He had it both ways.) As slang, hot and cool sometimes mean the same thing. The feelings are different but the venues are similar, as in jazz.

From Overheard in New York:

Guy #1: I want to sing into an oscillating fan and record it.

Guy #2: Do you think you're the first person to think of that? That's like saying the kid on Project Runway invented the word "fierce".

I don’t think I’ve watched Project Runway, but it’s a reality show about modeling, and I have noticed “fierce” used to describe models or things that are hip or beautiful in an extreme fashion. According to Urban Dictionary it’s gay slang, introduced by designer Christian V. Siriano. Since neither models and designers are what I think of as fierce, it must be another one of those opposites things.

Big Guyes

Latest inexplicable spam for male augmentation: “All chicks like big guyes with short hair, solid eyes.” Personally I like solid guyes with big eyes.

Serial Comma

Here’s an example from an IBD editorial of why to use the serial comma (comma after the second to last item in a series, preceding the conjunction):

The current debate about energy in the United States has devolved into doing the same old thing — consume, don't produce and complain — while somehow expecting different results.

Should it be “consume, don’t produce, and complain”? I think so but I’m not absolutely sure.


Less confusing than the serial comma issue, but still irritating, is this ad:

It's a spot for a family dinner, a date or to bring guests.

Since we wouldn’t say “It’s a spot for to bring guests” the sentence should be rewritten. The linking “a date” possibly threw the writer off, since we can correctly say either “It’s a spot for a date” or “it’s a spot to bring a date” (“date” changes its meaning with the change of grammar). We wouldn’t say “It’s a spot for guests” so the best recasting might be, “It’s a spot for the family, a date, or guests.”

Watch Your Tongue, Pen, Pencil, Keyboard, Thoughts, and Wallet

Talk about killing the messenger. Mark Steyn and McLean’s magazine are now in the midst of a hearing or trial (show trial, Steyn calls it) by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which forbids writing anything that might hold persons up to contempt. Wouldn’t this mean no news at all, let alone opinion? No crime reporting? No political reporting? No movie reviews?

My favorite movie reviewers, Reel Geezers (Lorenzo and Marsha on reviewed the new movie Sex and the City. Lorenzo teased Marsha, who usually has a political slant, by saying the women in the movie “don’t care about Vietnam”. Actually they probably hadn’t heard of Vietnam. I haven’t seen the movie, and just wonder if I’d be holding anyone up to contempt by reporting that a local pregnant woman had labor induced just so she wouldn’t miss the opening of Sex and the City.

The U.S. government also has forbidden official pairing of the words “Islam” and “terrorism”, and the UN passed a resolution against Islamophobia (in layman’s terms, an irrational fear of jihadist suicide bombers), as indicated by any (verbal) identification of Islam with terrorism, which resolution was introduced by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. I guess the UN isn’t outlawing actual Islamic terrorism, not even genocide in Darfur. But I’m cool. I could report that Muhammad decreed that those who leave Islam should be punished by execution, and that leaving Islam is still punishable by death, but I’m not really defaming anyone because I think that’s all great!

Animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot, on the other hand, has been fined more than $23,000 by the French government for criticizing Muslims in a letter, particularly for slaughtering sheep for a religious holiday, and also for generally destroying France by imposing their ways on the culture.