Friday, August 8, 2008

Parvum Opus 289 ~ Why I Am Called to This Work


Number 289


Why I Am Called to This Work

From Overheard in New York:

||| Student: Yeah, someone who plays the cello is a cellist, someone who makes art is an artist, and someone who writes poetry is a poist. ~Hunter College High School

||| Heavily accented Asian cashier to heavily accented Asian coworker: What!? Speaka English, por favor. ~J2 Deli, W 18th St

||| Bimbo looking at scoreboard: I think the "e" stands for "exqualifications" You know, for when a player is "exqualified". ~Yankees Stadium

||| Lady: I know what I am, he ain't gonna labelize me. ~Washington Square Park

||| Real estate agent: And all the doormen and service staff are Easter European. ~Park Avenue

||| Ghetto college girl: I'll talk to you later, I gots to get my learn on, girl. ~Brooklyn College

You know, we can sort of understand all of these people, but how much of the world around them can they understand? I have the most confidence in the “gots to get my learn on” girl.

Me, Myself and I and Sometimes You

Caroline Winter filled in for William Safire on August 3 with a discussion of why we capitalize “I” in “Me, Myself and I”. Her main point is that the single letter “i” would seem to get lost, though we don’t feel the same way about the word “a”, for obvious reasons. Winter noted that a count of the word “I” in speeches by Clinton, McCain, and Obama showed substantially fewer in Obama’s speech, probably because “we” are the change “we’ve” been waiting for (although I haven’t been waiting for myself, I’ve been here for quite a while). Obama is hardly less egocentric than other politicians, but I think he controls his speech more.

In grade school we were taught not to open a letter with the word “I” and to avoid using it as much as possible in writing. It’s not very interesting to write a letter, especially a personal letter, talking only about “you”. (How are you? How’s the weather there? How’s your cat?) Presumably the recipient already knows pretty much about himself. In a job application, it’s all about the writer. “Now let’s talk about you” can be a conversation stopper.

You’ve probably heard the quote, “Small minds discuss people; average minds discuss events; great minds discuss ideas”, attributed on the web to both Admiral Rickover and Eleanor Roosevelt. They may have quoted it, but I think it goes back much further. I also think it’s wrong. Shakespeare is a case in point. He can’t be said to discuss abstract ideas, exactly, but his great mind observed and discussed people, events, and life brilliantly.

Shakespeare aside, you could also say that small minds talk about themselves, average minds talk about other people, and great minds talk about humanity. Or, small minds discuss things, for instance fashion, average minds complain about preoccupation with fashion, and great minds are contemptuous of people who like fashion. Or, small minds complain about the price of gas, average minds have political opinions about the price of oil, and great minds have to buy gas like the rest of us. There’s no end to the making of aphorisms. If you use an old one as a template, you don’t have to be very clever. This catchy tri-part sentence is nicely balanced and merely the form makes it appear to cover everything that needs to be said on the subject. The late Professor Winston Weathers, from whom I took a rhetoric class, had a nice (in the usual and the antique sense of the word) analysis of the sense of a series created by how many parts it has; I wish I had kept my notes. Two parts (“Small minds discuss people; great minds discuss ideas”) feels different than the three-part aphorism above. Four or more parts implies “plethora” (that much I recall from Dr. Weathers’s lecture): “Small minds discuss people; average minds discuss events; great minds discuss ideas; everyone discusses objects in their path.”

Two Degrees of Separation

I looked up Barack Obama and Saul Alinsky, the Marxist teacher of political organizing strategy who influenced Obama as a community organizer, because someone said Alinsky gave props to Lucifer as the original radical in the introduction to his book Rules for Radicals. A web site called Theistic Satanism quotes Alinsky, in “A role model for left-wing Satanists” by Diane Vera. Theistic Satanism, as you might guess, is literally devil worship, a formerly despised minority among Satanists, according to Vera. Vera also asks and answers such questions as “Should Satanists care about the reputation of Satanism?” (Part of the answer: “Satanists are or should be supermen, utterly beyond caring what the lowly herd thinks of us.”)

I don’t think Obama is a Satanist ~ I don’t think he’s religious enough to worship Satan ~ but the lad has been careless about his influences and associates.

Don’t Go There

Cuil is a new search engine that’s supposed to call up images for every search, in development by a new Silicon Valley extravaganza of a start-up. A list-serve I belong to posted several damning stories of Cuil failure: searches turn up images that don’t belong to the web page, and porn filters seem to be nonfunct (as opposed to defunct). I’m thinking these would-be windfall wealth computer geeks grew up on pictures, not text, nor logic either, a bad start for a programmer.

Which reminds me of the suggestion to slap windfall profits taxes on oil companies. Windfall is fruit that has fallen or been blown from trees, i.e. unexpected easy gain. That’s not the same as profit from work or business, even excess profit. Windfall tax wouldn’t hurt the oil companies anyway, they’d pass the costs on to us at the gas pump.


Anne DaBee wrote about intersexual vs. hermaphrodite:

"Intersexual" is, perhaps, more explicit, and possibly more easily understood by people who never heard of either Hermes or Aphrodite. Unfortunately, it seems as though those folks are beginning to outnumber us. Maybe that's what's at the root of "tell it like it is" ~ EVERYBODY understands what sex is, even if Hermes is only a fancy line of fashion stuff, and who the hell is Aphrodite?

True, everyone understands what sex is, even if they don’t understand sex. Anne also added:

We used to say "niglet", with no intention of being offensive, although it certainly was, with "hindsight is 20/20" applied. At the time "pickanniny" seemed demeaning ~ and "niglet" wasn't? Go figure...

That must have been a local word; it’s not in the dictionary and I never heard it growing up in the South.

In the Chris Rock movie “I Think I Love My Wife”, the married couple spell out the words “white” and “black” in front of their kids when referring to people of those persuasions. I have no idea if any black people actually do that at home with their kids, but it’s interesting ~ the obsession with race fighting the wish not to pass that obsession on to the kids.


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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