Friday, February 27, 2009

Parvum Opus 314 ~ Grammatorically Speaking

The Phrontistery

The Phrontistery is a web site about words, worth a look. Here’s one entry:

Is W a vowel?

Not in English, not really. It's sometimes asserted that W, like Y, is sometimes a vowel, but unlike Y, W does not fulfill the role of a vowel in normal English words. However, in a very few loan-words from Welsh like 'cwm' and 'crwth', W acts like a vowel.

I beg to differ. I think it is a diphthong. I had to explain this to my Chinese student the other day, and explain how to physically form the sound. It seems to me to be a combination of vowel sounds: oo (whether as in wood or food) plus another vowel sound. Example: oo (as in good) + long a = way. (I know nothing about Welsh.) Same goes for Y. Remember memorizing the vowels in grade school: A E I O U and sometimes Y. But like W, Y is always a diphthong: ee + long a = yay. Y and W may be considered vowels at the ends of syllables or words.

Six-Word Memoir

Michelle Martin invites people to write six-word memoirs along the lines of Hemingway’s example, “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” It would be easy to substitute for baby shoes, wedding dress, ice skates, bikini, etc., or replace last clause as well, as in “For sale: ’57 Chevy, 124 miles.” It’s not as easy as it looks because you have to leave out so much that’s important. Martin’s examples seem to be all about her work. Jane Austen wasn’t trying to write a memoir when she wrote, “I write about love and money” (she continued, “What else is there to write about?”).


Gene Weingarten has an article in The Washington Post about the value of copyeditors. Read it carefully.

Between Us

Thanks to Dave DaBee for the New York Times article about a flaw ~ gasp! ~ in Obama’s glassy, glossy rhetoric: He says things like “between you and I”. I’m not rigid about all grammar rules; I have discussed my lack of rigidity in this space regarding the split infinitive, the preposition ending a sentence, and some others. This happens to be one error that irritates me, and not just because it’s Obama’s. The NYT noted that even Shakespeare used this form; I say no one else is allowed to.

Harry H. wrote:

I just ran across this on the internet while researching heat pumps; don't know how common this error is, but here it is anyway:

"Since heat pumps almost often run on electricity, you'll want to consider whether a gas furnace would be cheaper."

The writer meant “most often” or “almost always” and probably just made a careless slip; it’s probably not an error you’ll ever see again. See Copyeditors above.


Fred foisted a book on me which I will have to read at least in part because it has an interesting chapter called “Our Poisoned Language”; the book is The Fatal Conceit by F. A. Hayek. He quotes a saying of Confucius that we’ve seen before in a different translation: “If the language is incorrect … the people will have nowhere to put hand and foot.” Here is an example of incorrect language:

To Marx especially we also owe the substitution of the term “society” for the state or compulsory organization about which he is really talking, a circumlocution that suggests that we can deliberately regulate the actions of individuals by some gentler and kinder method of direction than coercion.

It always struck me that where the “people” were supposed to rise up and take over the means of production, after which the “state” would wither away, the “people” were always just a few who shared certain opinions. People with other opinions were not really the “people”. Of course “society” also suggests to some people that oppressive group that forces them to wear clothes and get jobs and so on. Also reminds me of a corporate presentation I went to years ago where the speaker explained the difference between tyrants and the IRS: tyrants use physical threats and force. How do you think the IRS persuades people to enter prison?

Along these lines, the NY Times says that there’s a “perception gap” between us and them (and you know who us and them are) as to who are terrorists. This means there is no objective truth. Like those fights at school where one kid hits another, who defends himself and then gets in trouble for hitting. Maybe you’ve seen this at home among your kids, or maybe with your siblings when you were a kid. In the interest of “fairness” everybody gets blamed. But someone usually did start the trouble, and usually intentionally.

Swim Lane

A new way to say “above my pay grade”: “He’s getting way out of his swim lane.”


Free speech update: Geert Wilders, who was kicked out of England, has been allowed in the U.S. and even allowed to speak and show his film Fitna. You can watch it too. Just because you can.


Dave Barry has been reading my mind ~ from the past! In a 2003 column he mentioned the English village names of Biggleswade, Flitwick, and Leighton Buzzard. Not that we don’t have, uh, interesting place names in the U.S. Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, comes to mind.

Here’s a short list of people’s names from my ancestral spring, West Virginia; these are Christian names, not family names:

Ruffner, Shade, Bryce, Creed Lamb, Oma, Dorcas, Clenton Lando, Verba May,
Ollie (Offutt, Jr.), Wavalene Gay, Maysel Marie

Dorcas is a Biblical name (I think it sounds Greek). Some of the others may be surnames used as first names. Some seem to be newly coined, like Wavalene and Maysel. Ollie Offutt, Jr. is the first and last name. I gleaned these names from Calhoun County obituaries, and assume they are names from past generations and thus no longer in fashion, or in use.


A Kansas high school student caught an error on a state writing test that said “greenhouse gas omission” instead of “emission”. Aren’t we aiming for omission of greenhouse gases? I’d like to know how the question was worded.

More About Fonts

Lifehacker is a useful web site, with an article about the importance of clarity in fonts. Remember how everyone wanted to use every possible font in their documents when they first got word processors?

And here’s another place to make your own font. The site I mentioned last week requires you to write letters in a template and then scan the page. Fontstruct has a different method: you use a grid to construct letters.


East Anglian paramedic Bob Brotchie came up with a useful idea to help paramedics locate your emergency contact person in case of, well, emergency: Program in the appropriate number under “ICE” (for “In Case of Emergency”) in your cell phone. Paramedics usually find a cell phone on people in accidents, for instance, but they don’t know who to call (though I did get a call once from someone who found my son’s phone in the Boston subway ~ my number was under “Mom”). If you have more than one person who might be an emergency contact, program in those numbers under ICE2, ICE3, etc.

Speaking of useful, I once said to Fred that I wanted to be a useful person, and he said, “Don’t you mean helpful?” The idea, so I gathered, was that a person may help, but only an object is useful; we don’t make use of human beings. But the idea goes back to my childhood quandary about whether I wanted to be a cow or a cat. Cows lead peaceful lives, and are useful. Cats are only occasionally useful; they live for themselves and are beautiful. Now I would like to be some sort of hybrid.

Sign my petition to establish a Scottish-American History Month. You don’t have to be Scottish to sign!



Read The Wish Book, a novella by Rhonda Keith, free to read online or download as a Word file.

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 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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