Friday, July 11, 2008

Parvum Opus 286 ~ LOL Writer


Number 286


This Week's Flotsam and Jetsam

||| Treen: a neat old word that means decorative items made of wood.

||| Caveperson: Someone strayed too far into PC land. Surely cavepersons were men and women, if anyone was. One of the effects of using the genderless person in such constructions is to emphasize the function of the adjectival noun, in this case, cave. But the words cavemen and cavewomen place people roughly in an era more than in a type of dwelling. Perhaps the speaker thought caveman would be offensive, implying as it does crude behavior. But there is no Society for the Prevention of Offenses to Cavepeople. Maybe the guy who used the word seriously (I forget who it was) was afraid of the Geico cavemen. ("Cavers", by the way, are people who explore caves.)

||| "That is me offering you an olive basket": from the movie Ocean's 13. Either the script writer had no knowledge of the phrase "olive branch" or else he wrote the character unaware of the phrase, for a joke. You never know, since screenwriters now seem to learn everything they know from other movies, not from books.

||| "They're trying to facilitate him": said on a news show of a person who should have been put in a facility for the criminally insane. Not putting him in such a facility did indeed facilitate him, but not in a good way.

||| lolcat: laughing out loud cat, a newish web word that means cute photos of cats with funny captions that are spelled wrong. (I think if a cat would spell, it would spell correctly.) This specific bit of web humor is common enough now to have earned its own name, and there are loldogs too.

McBookstore McWorker

Rich Lederer wrote:

Following up your "This Week in Literacy," here's another book store incident:

In one of the megachain bookstores, a woman asked a young clerk for the author of Like Water for Chocolate. After the salesperson had spent five minutes searching and still could not locate the famous title, the customer realized that the young man had been looking for Water from Chocolate.

It's like . . . you know.

Like getting water from a stone? Maybe if you squeeze it really hard....


William Safire in "Misspeaking Too Soon" wrote:

Students of verbal slipmanship along with a few cognitive neuroscientists took note of a speech in Santa Barbara, Calif., recently by the philosopher Daniel Dennett in which he used the computer-jargon noun thinko. Coined on the analogy of typo, it means "mental glitch; brief interruption of the thought process; wind breakage of the brain," like calling your best friend by your dog's name, which I did this morning.

Let's add speako to the list.

Also from Safire:

The Lexicographic Irregulars have lost a valued colleague. George Carlin, who died two weeks ago at 71, was a social satirist in comedian's clothing with a great feel for language, both fair and foul. A decade ago, he called my attention to "a sin of omission I have encountered . . . the dropping of the words is concerned from the phrase "as far as [whoever] is concerned." And late last year, he set this column straight on the metaphoric origin of nose open. When at age 17 he brought it up with "a black fellow airman from Chicago," he said: "I was told it referred to a boxer getting his opponent's nose to bleed. At such a moment, the nose-opener has gained control."

I've written about the "as far as" blunder, when people drop the end of "as far as that goes", in the second issue of PO at the end of 2002. But I heard "nose open" with a different meaning, from a friend who used to run a couple of bars in black neighborhoods. She used it to mean looking for a man, or woman, in other words sniffing the air.

Good Ones

Passed on to use from Lynn Jones:

||| All those who believe in psychokinesis, raise my hand.

||| OK, so what's the speed of dark?

||| Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

A Song of Patriotic Prejudice

Mike Sykes, bless his Brit heart (or is it his Euro heart), wrote about patriotism, "Like many isms it's all very well, up to a point", that famous formulation that means it's not very well at all, the point being the vanishing point. He sent a funny song about patriotism.

On July 4th Fred and I went to a typical small-town parade and park festivity where I saw a group of people at a picnic table singing "God Bless America" before eating, as a sort of grace. I was touched; I never saw anyone do that before. Fred was impressed by their pretty good four-part harmony. But the one person I told about it, snickered. I suppose a Brit would lift a sardonic eyebrow, a Frenchman would shrug. When I had two Danish children as students a couple of years ago, their mother bought them an American flag because she was impressed that Americans have flags; Danes don't bother. I just learned that a nickname for Australia is Oz, like that magical land, so they must like their home.

Then on July 5th I saw a man at the gym wearing a T-shirt with an American flag and the caption "Worst Ever". I assume he was being self-referential.

Mike also wrote, "Many wise things have been said on the subject of patriotism, one of the

wisest being GK Chesterton's, 'My country, right or wrong' is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober'."

As for "my mother drunk or sober", read "To My Mother", a poem by George Barker, about his mother (or a mother) during a WWII bombing in London. There are drunks and then there are drunks.

The instantaneous cynical reaction to love of country is like unvarying cynicism about imperfect parents, or children for that matter, imperfect husbands and wives, imperfect home, imperfect religion, imperfect self. Since bad people with bad motives abuse and abase normal sentiments about everything important, and since we think that to love one thing means to hate the other, sometimes our solution is to not admit to loving anything, a popular stance in my college days. Conversely, today the prevailing idea is that to love one's country or to think one idea or behavior is better than another is hateful. If you can't approve of or like everything equally, the least you can do is despise yourself. So many of us have become, spiritually if not literally, like the man without a country, who, in Edward Everett Hale's 1863 story, said:

Remember, boy, that behind all these men..., behind officers and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by her, boy, as you would stand by your mother...!

Drunk or sober. At least once a year. Then you can cheerfully beat her with a stick the other 364 days.

The Grass Is Always Greener on the Imaginary Other Side

Californians are in a bind. They're prohibited from blocking solar panels, which means trees that shade the panels may or must be cut down, even if the trees are on someone else's property and were there before the solar panels. Australia now has a clinical definition of a psychiatric disorder called "climate change delusion". Some poor boy thought that the whole world would die of dehydration if he drank water.

My Ship Enterprise

I'm branching out into a new publishing enterprise, writing autobiographies for people, by which I mean interviewing them and editing their stories to be published in archival quality books for the family. If anyone knows of a potential client, the ten percent finder's commission would be $2,500. Get in touch in you're interested.


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.

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