Thursday, October 23, 2008

Parvum Opus 298 ~ Code Words

I Promise

In the cartoon Agnes by Tony Cochran, 10/22/08, Agnes runs for class president:

I promise you that if I am elected class president, all the things you don’t like will be eradicated, completely and immediately! And all the things you do like will be in abundance and free of charge!

I promise that after the election I’ll think and write about something other than politics.

Publishing Trends

The current issue of Men’s Health has a cover story, “20 Heroes of Health and Fitness”, and lo, Barack Obama’s name leads all the rest. I didn’t read the article but I doubt that McCain made the list, seeing as how he’s old and his arms are stiff from all that torture. But I happen to be privy to the next big wave in magazine publishing, and editors and publishers are planning exciting new roll-outs. If Obama is elected, Oprah’s O Magazine will carry photos of Obama on every cover instead of herself, and she won’t even have to change the title. Bird Watchers will name a new bird after him, unless they can’t find any new birds, in which case they will change the name of the scarlet tanager to the blue state tanager. Fantasy Football will feature an all-Obama team. Brides magazine will publish a story in every issue suggesting wedding plans for his daughters. The Zen magazine The Empty Vessel will discuss Obama’s Christianity.

Code Words

Lewis Diuguid of the Kansas City Star says that “socialist” is a code word for black. What isn’t a code word for black these days? If you disagree with Obama’s politics at all, it’s racism. So is capitalist a code word for white? What do you call white socialists?

Remember that my French student, originally from Mali, said ~ unprovoked, I didn’t broach the subject ~ he’s observed in his short time in the United States that Republicans are afraid to say they’re Republican. Now this, from Melvyn Bragg’s newsletter on his BBC radio programme “In Our Time”:

Janet [Soskice] pointed out that it was difficult to confess to being a Christian in America at the moment, partly because the evangelicals were so fierce but also because, in her view, the liberal consensus in America was so dogmatic and all-pervading.

European, in other words. Apropos of this, maybe, is the sign that was in front of a church this afternoon: “Jesus loves Obama.” Looks like the sign was taken down rather quickly, so maybe it wasn’t approved by the church. It’s not a Christian message, since Jesus also loves McCain and even third-party candidates.

I had to go on a student field trip today to the Dem and Rep (Demon and Reprobate) campaign headquarters, and got a slap on the e-mail later because someone complained that I supposedly voiced a political opinion (at the Dems). This is a longish, tedious story but it shows to some extent the touchy political atmosphere today. Here’s what happened, in part: At the Republican headquarters, I talked to the two people a couple more minutes after the rest of the group left, as I was driving separately, and then they gave me some handouts. So at the Dem headquarters, while the students were collecting a lot of literature, I handed out the material rather than wait till tomorrow’s class,. Apparently that was a no-no, even though I mentioned it was just part of their education for the day; actually I've really never visited a political campaign office and didn't realize that anything with McCain's name on it was verboten, as was any political questions. A lady at the Dem office told me McCain's name was a bad word there, and I told her that Obama's name hadn't been a bad word at the Republican office, where they were quite respectful, which seemed to surprise her. A student asked her if the Republican attacks on Obama were being effective, then I asked if Democrat attacks about McCain were being effective, and she said the Dems don’t lie (but it’s always my assumption that both sides lie or at least twist the truth). When I asked her for an example, she said she didn't want to talk about it. Then one student pointed admiringly to a photo of JFK in the Dem office, and I said that while he was a Democrat, the Democratic party had changed since then, so he said it was the world that changed, or something, and I said some things don’t change, and he said like what, and I said like capitalism vs. socialism, strong national defense against attack, and that was as much as we had time for. The Dems were cruising for volunteers; though they knew the students couldn't vote, they told the students they were welcome to volunteer (if they were old enough not to need parental approval). So I don’t know what my error was, or who complained. And note that in class or in any public place, I don’t talk with the candor with which I write to you.

Temn and Demn

Contemn is a verb I’ve never used nor even heard used. I’ve only seen it in print (most recently, referring to liberal women who despise Sarah Palin), so if I thought of the word at all, it was as somewhat archaic. In fact I vaguely confused it with condemn, so maybe I have heard the word spoken, but they are two different words. Contemn obviously is about contempt (from Latin despise). Condemn is to damn (also from Latin).

As a woman, I’m surprised that so many feminists despise Palin. There was a time when feminists were sort of in favor of any woman in office, no matter what. But as a woman, I’m also not surprised. There’s some envy involved, but I’m sure it’s mostly because of the abortion issue. It would be interesting to find out who among those who hate her the most have had abortions, and who’ve had them, not because the baby had Downs syndrome or some other serious disorder, but because the pregnancy was inconvenient. Statistics say that perhaps one-fourth, or 22% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are terminated by abortion, because the pregnancies were “unintended” and maybe 40% of American women have had abortions. Whatever the number, it’s huge.

But I knew the Palin contempt was also about guilt, and a recent article by Anonymous (why Anonymous?) in the Boston Phoenix (an “alternative” paper) confirms it. She writes about the abortion she had six years ago as a 19-year-old college girl in Boston, when she wasn’t financially or emotionally ready to follow through with the consequences of her decision to have sex, for which she was apparently ready enough. (Why hasn’t sex education fixed all that?) When she learned she was pregnant, “There was nothing else to think about,” she writes. Her guilt isn’t about the abortion per se, she says, but about forgetting to take her birth control pills regularly and about being so privileged that all she had to do was cross the street to get an abortion while other women have to, what, go across town? She had a “medical” abortion rather than a surgical abortion (she took a pill, but surgery is also medical, which I only mention because she meant chemical). The day afterward, she went to an editorial meeting of her school newspaper, where they decided not to print a lucrative pro-life ad because it was against their “principles”. She doesn’t remember if she said anything in the meeting.

Anonymous felt guilty and angry when she read about Palin’s pregnant daughter and Palin’s opposition to abortion. While Anonymous acknowledges that some women face more extreme situations, she thinks her own inconvenience is the equivalent of other motives for abortion, but that her decision is made to seem somehow less ethically justifiable in “today’s society”. People like Sarah Palin make her feel “trite and selfish”. Perhaps in tomorrow's society Anonymous need not hide her name, and even surviving post-abortion, uh, creatures need not live to encroach on the peace of mind of their, um, unintendeds, when they are no bigger than a mustard seed.


“Contemptible” brings me to another question: why do some words end in ible and some in able? Is there a rule? Why, yes there is, says Purdue, but it has exceptions. The rule is to use “ible” to follow word roots (i.e. incomplete words), and “able” to follow complete words, ergo incredible and fashionable respectively. But contemptible is one of the exceptions, as is responsible (“respons” is not a complete word but this is a matter of spelling).

New interview with bluesman Sonny Robertson.


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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