Friday, September 19, 2008

Parvum Opus 294 ~ Pleasant Shrewdness


Number 294


Pleasant Shrewdness

Last year Alan Jacobs wrote a parody, “On the Recent Publication of Kahlil Gibran’s Collected Works,” in First Things (November 2007). In my college days Gibran was popular but somehow I didn’t pick up on him, so I can’t say how good this parody is, but I tend to like parodies whether or not I know much about the parodied. Here’s the opening:

Expansive and yet vacuous is the prose of Kahlil Gibran,
And weary grows the mind doomed to read it.
The hours of my penance lengthen,
The penance established for me by the editor of this magazine,
And those hours may be numbered as the sands of the desert.
And for each of them Kahlil Gibran has prepared
Another ornamental phrase,
Another faux-Biblical cadence,
Another affirmation proverbial in its intent
But alas! lacking the moral substance,
The peasant shrewdness, of the true proverb.

Gibran is linked in my mind with Rod McKuen, another soft poet who was popular at the time. I was an English major, I was reading better stuff, but girls always go for a good-looking, sentimental man. If he’s got a guitar, multiply that by a zillion.

This Week’s State of Education Report: From Inexplicable to Inscrutable

As goes New York City, so goes the nation; from Overheard in New York:

Woman #1: So, how are you holding up?
Woman #2: You know, doing the best I can, using the five senses.
Woman #1: There's six senses.
Woman #2: No there's five: walking, talking, breathing, reading and writing.
Woman #1: What about seeing?
Woman #2: Well yeah, there's also fire, wood, air, and water; but I don't know why they don't count those.

For starters, how come they don’t know what the word “sense” means? Anyway, I thought it was fire, earth, air, and water. (Hey, remember Firesign Theater? Look for it on Now we go from inexplicable to disheartening.

Asian girl: Oh my god, we had a physics quiz and I totally failed.

White girl: Wait, you mean like an Asian fail, right?

Asian girl: Yeah, I think I still have an A, but barely!

The Esquire Blink

Last week I mentioned the new Esquire cover with an electronic flashing sign built into the cover ~ built into the ink, actually ~ a new publishing techno gimmick from a company called E Ink in Massachusetts. Dave DaBee said he’s heard of the company, but there are so many new companies on the 128 loop around Boston that he hadn’t paid much attention to that one. So I said they need to put up a big blinking sign on 128, but I didn’t get my own line till Dave sent a heh heh shout-out: the Esquire cover blinks, but blinking also can be a euphemistic modifier, substituting for a coarser expression.

Hey, Mike Sykes!

One perk of my new university teaching job is free access to the Oxford English Dictionary online. I’ll look up blinking up right now just to show off:

Used as a substitute for a strong expletive. slang. [Much like my off the cuff definition!]

1914 Scotsman 12 Oct. 7/5 One..Guardsman..declared..that His Majesty seemed to carry the ‘blinking Army List in his 'ead’.

1927 Observer 21 Aug. 17/5 The type of golfer who..hurls the bag of clubs after it, accompanied by the remark, ‘Go on, have the blinking lot’.

It is so satisfying to me to be able to look something up in the actual OED. I also have access to the legal database, LexisNexis, which I’m not sure how to use.

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Frank’s Place was an outstanding comedy series on TV for only one season 20 years ago, starring Tim Reid. I don’t know why it ended so soon, and I don’t know why there are no reruns on TV. But you can see one episode (in two parts) on Don’t miss it.

Under the Overgrowth

From Bryan Garner’s daily usage tip and quotation:

The Saxon or German tongue is the ground-work upon which our language is founded, the mighty stream of forraign words that hath since Chaucer's time broke in upon it having not yet wash't away the root: onely it lies somewhat obscur'd, and overshadow'd like a Rock, or Fountain overgrown with bushes. ~ Edward Phillips, Preface, The New World of English Words (1658).

The archaic spellings remind me of our class field trip to a one-man knight’s castle, Chateau Laroche, built by one man over a period of half a century till he died in 1981. He also started a group called The Knights of the Golden Trail. The builder of the castle, the late Harry Andrews, was romantic and idealistic, but practical. His knights are corporate owners of the castle and volunteer in its care.

One of my students noticed that the abbreviation for the group, as spelled out in stone in the garden, is KOGT. He thought it was incorrect to include the “O” as the word “of” is generally omitted in such abbreviations. Of course the word “the” is omitted from KOGT. I have no idea why.

The department head came along on this field trip and brought some medieval costumes for the students to wear and be photographed in. She performs in renaissance festivals and has quite a collection. The students, who are from all over the world, looked quite natural in these antique styles. In fact one of the young guys looked like a rowdy friend of Romeo’s; he’s not refined enough to be Romeo or witty enough to be Mercutio, but he could pass for one of their punk buddies. The clothing gave me a feeling of what it might have been like living in another time: they were real people who wore different clothes and spoke differently.

Where Is He Now?

Did you know the first declared presidential candidate in this campaign was Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa (November 30, 2006). It’s not clear to me who he is, why he declared so early, nor why the candidates that we’ve all actually heard of (over and over and over again) declared so early either.

Vaca (here) or Vac (there), I’m Outa Here

I’m getting ready to go to Scotland for my son’s wedding at Dunnottar Castle next week. I’m not sure if I’ll be up to writing the week after I get back. So I’m on vacation from Parvum Opus for one or two weeks. I’ve never been to Scotland, whence came most of my ancestors. I’m wondering if I’ll have much difficulty understanding their speech. But I’ll take notes. Maybe. I want to soak in the atmosphere and walk on the North Sea beach.

We had a power outage this week after getting whipped by the northern tail of Hurricane Ike. Being without light is a bit like camping, and having no electronic communication or entertainment is a mental vacation. It threw me a bit off kilter (whose etymology is obscure, according to the OED, but it is not, apparently, related to “kilt”, which is much on my mind these days). About a million and a half people in this area lost power. Some people have been without electricity since Sunday; we were luckier and got back on the grid in a couple of days. I head that PO reader Bill R. kindly took in some people who were without power in his city.


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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