Friday, November 21, 2008

Parvum Opus 302 ~ Taxonomy of Grammar

Floy-Floy Revisited

New PO reader Mick Pearce wrote:

I came across a brief discussion in Parvum Opus regarding the origin of the term "floy-floy".

"The only other place I've read floy-floy was in a sketch by S. J. Perelman", you wrote.

Just FYI, "floy-floy" turns up in the film Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951). From a Time Out review: "...reporter Chuck Tatum (Douglas), resentfully stagnating in a New Mexico backwater after being repeatedly fired from jobs in the big time, ...sees a chance to manufacture a scoop when a man is trapped by a rockfall. The sheriff, calculating the publicity value to his forthcoming election campaign, agrees to spin out the rescue operation; Tatum builds his story into a nationwide sensation; and as thrill seekers, media hounds, and profiteers turn the site into a gaudy carnival, the victim quietly dies."

Tatum, at one point trying to calm, and boost the confidence of, the trapped man, tells him he's got floy-floy, which appears to mean, imprecisely, flair or courage or character. I doubt, though, that the term ever had a truly exact meaning.

Paul Whiteman recorded a track called "Flying Down to Floy Floy" (maybe Florida?).

I agree that floy-floy probably never had a precise meaning. (Speaking of Perelman, I was pleased to run across a phrase I haven’t seen since I read it in something by Perelman, which I can’t locate: “instinct with”. Theodore Dalrymple wrote: “For Hall, life is instinct with meaning.” Searching for that phrase + Perelman, I did find a partial quote but I don’t remember it and think maybe he used it elsewhere. Now “instinct” is almost always used as a noun.)

Also from Mick:

"F.F.F. is a tune, originally written and performed by Slim & Slam (Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart) that got very popular in the 40's. A floogie is a lady of easy virtue -- the floy is V.D. Not an elegant lyric, but succinct at any rate." [my emphasis; VD being, of course, an outdated term for STD].

Mick also wondered if The Supremes knew that when they recorded “Floy Joy”. I think not. But he got me to wondering why VD (venereal disease) gave way to STD (sexually transmitted disease). “Venereal” was formed from “Venus” and I guess the reference to the classical goddess of love was at once too erudite and too sentimental, whereas STD sounds loosely and vaguely more scientific.


At last, someone who knows how to pronounce “long-lived”! Armand Schultz, reading The Last Patriot on CD, pronounced “lived” with a long “i” (like “I’ve come to wive it wealthily in Padua” ~ Kiss Me Kate).

How to read a book, second installment: I listened to this book on CD in the car over a week or so and missed a lot of details which didn’t seem to matter much if you didn’t care much about the plot, which I didn’t; it didn’t seem to hurt to ignore large patches of the book. But it’s an OK thriller, lots of action amongst CIA and spy types, a (fictional) historical mystery regarding Thomas Jefferson, Miguel de Cervantes, and Barbary pirates. The best part was a most ingenious (fictional) invention by Jefferson of a mechanical scribe that concealed an encrypted message. That and the long-i “lived”.


An article in the National Post (Canada) described a particular usage of the word “narrative”, which I’ve encountered but never pinned down before. Barbara Kay wrote:

On November 4, the Globe's Margaret Wente hailed Obama's all-but-certain victory: 'The bitter narrative of oppression and grievance is over. The narrative of possibility ~ of Martin Luther King ~ can begin again.'

...In this vein, her repeated use of the word ‘narrative' is instructive. 'Narrative' is politically correct code nowadays for a personal history by a member of a minority identity group that is consciously constructed as a political vehicle. Its salient feature is that every feeling and every incident in the story is filtered through an ideological lens, edited to exert a political and ideological influence over the reader or listener. 'Narratives' means stories that are calculated to appeal to a target demographic's sense of guilt and ideals, but may have little to do with reality.

Thus people replace the “dominant narrative” with their own. This “narrative” is one of the synonyms of “my truth”, as opposed to “the truth”. If you believe the winners always invent all history, and the losers can rewrite history to their taste, you can completely disregard historical accuracy.

A new narrative: Already I’ve heard Obama referred to as a Hitler, because perhaps he’s not been a supporter of Israel but favors Palestine and other countries that are enemies of Israel, and not incidentally, the U.S. I didn’t like Bush being compared to Hitler and I don’t like it with Obama. And to be fair, I think his mere presence in the two-year campaign has already averted global warming, just as he promised. When’s the last time you heard about it in the news? What’s the weather like in your neighborhood?


Cincinnati police have rounded up a big gang that calls itself the Taliband. How cute is that?! Their specialty was robbing old people and generally terrorizing their neighborhood, plus an occasional homicide. But that name shows creativity as well as multicultural awareness. Should be good for probation for whoever came up with it, who just might parlay the whole affair into a safer career. I see a musical, a movie, maybe a TV series.

The Taxonomy of English

From Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

"A zoologist who divided animals into invertebrates, mammals, and beasts of burden would not get very far before running into trouble. Yet the traditional grammar is guilty of the same error when it defines three parts of speech on the basis of meaning (noun, verb, and interjection), four more on the basis of function (adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction), and one partly on function and partly on form (preposition). The result is that in such an expression as 'a dog's life' there can be endless futile argument about whether 'dog's' is a noun or an adjective." W. Nelson Francis, "Revolution in Grammar" (1954), in Readings in Applied English Linguistics 69, 77 (Harold Byron Allen ed., 2d ed. 1964).

When I have to explain grammar to my students, not being a professional grammarian sometimes I get into trouble when I can’t quite define parts of speech. So I’m glad to know it’s not just me.

The Sykes Varieties

Mike Sykes commented variously:

RE “The Telegraph compiles lists of irritating phrases, which are transatlantically irritating too”:

This piece is based on a book that won't be published stateside until next month. It was reviewed by Michael Quinion recently here. Notice how the comments bring out the pedants, especially those who think dictionaries are definitive rather than descriptive. Of course we all have words and usages that annoy us. I've try to adapt to those that seem useful, rather than feebly witty, but sometimes I fail. More frequently as time goes on. So don't get me started!

But I want to get you started, that’s the whole point. Mike then corrected a typo he made, but since I tend to ignore mine these days, we’ll ignore his too. Regarding hell in the hallway, he added:

It's fifty years now since a colleague remarked to me: "When one door shuts, another closes." And there's a quote that "every cloud has a silver lining; only sometimes it's a little hard to get it to the mint."

Dead Parrots Are Timeless

Are you one of those people who buy Readers Digest so you can be the first to repeat its jokes at work? Try telling some of the oldest jokes in the western world, some of which are the same as the new jokes. Philogelos: The Laugh Addict - The World's Oldest Joke Book is a 1983 book, and you can now also purchase a shorter e-version with CD and online text with Jim Bowen.

Coming Next Week

New Olympic event: synchronized bed turning.


Read The Wish Book, a novella by Rhonda Keith, free online.

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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