Thursday, February 5, 2009

Parvum Opus 311 ~ Acronymical


Herb H. wrote re “Wyeth dyeth”:

Wyeth dyeth or died: If it were broadcast media it would always be "Wyeth dying . . . " Whether it's gerund or participle would have to depend on context, which may be why they don't provide any context. If it's a participle, they could claim it's a form of verb ~ just an illiterate form. I hope so. Under the premise that it COULD be a gerund, I usually am forced to wait for a verb, and I don't know how long to wait.

Participle is derived only from non-finite verbs. Now, Native American languages do not have any non-finite verbs. (Wickipedia said so, under "participle" or something.) This suggests the possibility that use of non-finite verbs is a necessary precursor for the development of the wheel.

Or, does the wheel lead to non-finite verbs? “Rolling! Cruising! Driven!” etc. I’m not used to the term “non-finite verb” but clearly it’s the opposite of the infinitive ~ no tense, number, or person. But while the infinitive has “to” in front of it, a non-finite verb can be the –ing form or a participle.

I have written about the ungrammatical, pointless, irritating use of the –ing form in newscasts ~ “Wyeth dying last night” ~ apparently to emulate truncated newspaper headlines.

Herb also analyzed further the unwheeled original nations of the western hemisphere.

I went ahead and queried the on-line Ojibwe dictionary with "wheel." Mainly, I got detibised+jig. That "detibised" looks kind of like "destabilized," leading me to suspect Ojibwe and their four bears had stability issues with anything that has wheels, and that may be the solution. To something.

My Gob Is Stopped

Mike Sykes wrote more about the freezing the balls off brass monkeys, and sent this from Michael Quinion (“International English from a British Viewpoint”) about the term, but I’m including more of Quinion than Mike sent because it makes so much sense:
It’s rubbish. There’s no evidence that such brass plates existed. Although the boys bringing charges to the guns from the magazine were known as powder monkeys and there is evidence that a type of cannon was called a monkey in the mid seventeenth century, there’s no evidence that the word was ever applied to a plate under a pile of cannon shot. The whole story is full of logical holes: would they pile shot into a pyramid? (hugely unsafe on a rolling and pitching deck); why a brass plate? (too expensive, and unnecessary: they actually used wooden frames with holes in, called garlands, fixed to the sides of the ship); was the plate and pile together actually called a monkey? (no evidence, as I say); would cold weather cause such shrinkage as to cause balls to fall off? (highly improbable, as all the cannon balls would reduce in size equally and the differential movement between the brass plate and the iron balls would be only a fraction of a millimetre).

What the written evidence shows is that the term brass monkey was quite widely distributed in the US from about the middle of the nineteenth century and was applied in all sorts of situations, not just weather. For example: from The Story of Waitstill Baxter, by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1913): “The little feller, now, is smart’s a whip, an’ could talk the tail off a brass monkey”; and from The Ivory Trail, by Talbot Mundy (1919): “He has the gall of a brass monkey”. Even when weather was involved, it was often heat rather than cold that was meant, as in the oldest example known, from Herman Melville’s Omoo (1850): “It was so excessively hot in this still, brooding valley, shut out from the Trades, and only open toward the leeward side of the island, that labor in the sun was out of the question. To use a hyperbolical phrase of Shorty’s, ‘It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey.’ ”

It seems much more likely that the image here is of a real brass monkey, or more probably still a set of them. Do you remember those sculptured groups of three wise monkeys, “Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil”? Though the term three wise monkeys isn’t recorded earlier than the start of the twentieth century, the images themselves were known much earlier. It’s more than likely the term came from them, as an image of something solid and inert that could only be affected by extremes.

My dad, incidentally, brought a wood carving of the three wise monkeys from the Philippines, along with some intricate ivory carvings, including one of a skeletal starving beggar that used to sit in the dining room.

Mike also elaborated on “suck it and see” from the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms:
There's also a (Brit) forum entry somewhere that suggests it might have originated with a large, spherical hard sweets (candies to you) known as gob-stoppers which were often made so that they changed colour while being sucked. I suspect this is another example of folk etymythology.

The same thread suggested it could be misunderstood as having a sexual connotation, which had never really occurred to me.

…but which is a constant occurrence in the US.

We also had a little more back and forth about the Auden poem but I will simply refer you to a link Mike sent to the complete poem with a peculiar sort of annotation wherein certain phrases are linked to what look like Web search results having nothing to do with the poem itself. Actually, the most famous line from this poem is “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.”


While looking up the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Dedham, Massachusetts, I ran across a similar museum in Seattle called OBAMA, the Official Bad Art Museum of Art. It’s hard to believe anyone in Seattle would make fun of you know who. I thought there must be an ordinance against it.

Speaking of whom, at last I understand out what hope is, vis a vis the big O: a fat check. You know about the jumbo stimulus package. I just joined Facebook since my kids are there, and half of the pop-up ads are about getting a piece of the action, with photos either of Obama or of wads of cash:

Get Your Stimulus Check

I paid $2.99 and Obama gave me $12,000 in less than 30 days. Get yours today!

All those idealistic, hopeful, changeful people may now be able to get some major cash for things like a dog park, the arts, a Frisbee park, you name it. What used to be “Ask not what America can do for you” is now “Ask!” or in my case, “Oy! Don’t ask!”

I heard someplace that a Chicago rep named Jan Schakowsky said that if she were to be bribed by corporate donations, she would be the victim. Then I guess we’re all victims of the guv now but I can’t be sure till I get my check.

Strophe, Antistrophe, Apostrophe, Catastrophe

Birmingham, England, is getting medieval on apostrophes, removing them from street signs and generally discouraging them because people haven’t learned how to use them anyway, they use too much ink or paint and take up too much space, and serve no function in names like Queen’s Heath, which hasn’t belonged to the Queen for a while. But did, say, St. Mary’s Road ever belong to Saint Mary, whoever she was? I’m sure we’d all feel much better if they dropped the “S” along with the apostrophe.


I’m working on setting up a petition to establish a Scottish-American History Month. If you’re Scottish or are interested in any way, get in touch.


Isaac Asimov said about serendipity: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny…’”



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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 2009. 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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