Friday, March 6, 2009

Parvum Opus 315 ~ Serial Killer Examples


For some reason the vowel question (W and Y) seemed to elicit the most interest in last week’s PO. Can’t imagine why, but for those of you who can really get into this sort of minutiae, you’re in luck. Mike Sykes wrote:

What my dictionary says of W is:
The sound normally represented by the letter is the bilabial semivowel /w/, closely resembling the value of Roman consonantal U or V. The sound was at first represented by uu, but in OE and early ME the runic character wynn was widely used, this in turn being replaced in ME by the ligature w. Consonantal w is now silent initially and medially before r and may be silent before h (see WH) and (in some words as answer, sword, two) after s and t. It may also be elided in the unstressed 2nd elem. of a compound, as in place-names (Norwich) and in certain nautical terms (forward, gunwale). Vocalic w results from the ME mutation of g and y (cf. YOGH) and medially and terminally forms a digraph with the preceding stressed vowel (as in bow); also from ME w was freq. used instead of u as 2nd elem. of other digraphs (as in paw, yew). Pl. W’s, Ws.

I assume his dictionary is the Oxford. Bilabial semivowel, you say. Almost two lips? And what would a Roman consonantal U or V sound like?

Herb H. wrote:

I see immediately that you are going to improve my pronunciation right now, by making me remember that y is a dipthong. I've heard the proper pronunciations many times, but just didn't realize they were right and I was wrong.

For example: synonym


I've been saying "sin - o- nim"
Where there's only one y-vowel in a word, it's easier and of course gonna be faster.

example: symbal

see-yem-bul instead of "sim-bul"

I can do it, but people have got to be patient as it's gonna take me longer to do correctly.

Herb was just funning me. But I want to emphasize what I may not have made clear (to Herb) last week, that I was referring to the W or Y at the beginning of a word or syllable, not trailing as in “day” or “now”.

Herb continued:

Richie D. once told me when we were roommates at the Big Farm that the long i sound was always slurred into an e sound one way or another. Before falling asleep that same night, I yelled at him that in the term "Third Reich" the only vowel in the second word was a pure long i. He had to accept that so I turned off my thinker and it was much later before I realized I could have used the word "bike" just as well, in English. I used to just think and marvel how much we could learn if we had the ability to just clear out crap like that from our memories and make the space available. But then when we all had to learn about computers, that new learnin' cast a lot of doubt. Probably we can't make any space in our memories. Probably it's just like in a computer memory the space is there and it makes no difference whether it's occupied by knowledge that may be valuable or by complete trash.

And Dave DaBee wrote:

My opinion, which I *just* now realized just for you, is that one criterion for being a vowel is that it must be pronounceable on its own.

That's not sufficient (l m n are serial killer examples) but it's necessary. The w is a conmooshication of vowel sounds, as you say, but not on its own.

I guess you can’t say any consonant without some sort of vowel, even the mush-mouthed schwa as in “duh”. (“Serial killer” examples: good one, Dave!)

Mike Sykes, by the way, had quite a bit to say about quite a bit, but I’ll just include this remark on “almost often”:

…reminds me of the "fast speed" problem. Why does "old age" sound OK, while "young age" grates a bit. There's no consistency.
I’ve heard (and used) “at a young age” but we wouldn’t say anything like “the problems of young age”. There’s no consistency, but there is custom.


Thanks to Jan for reminding me….

Recently I re-discovered Walt Whitman and realized how much I love his poetry. Today I was thinking about the simple pleasures in life, this says it perfectly.


Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

We agreed that Whitman and Emily Dickinson, though unlike each other, were both surprisingly modern-sounding poets for the nineteenth century.

As for actual modern poetry, Tom Bethel wrote (March 2009 American Spectator) about the tin-eared poetrix Elizabeth Alexander’s offering for the inauguration, which I discussed elsewhere (“built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of”). Bethel said that university creative writing programs are cranking out poets by the hundreds, and quoted Joseph Epstein who quoted Kingsley Amis: “Everything that has gone wrong with the world since World War II can be summed up in the word ‘workshop’.” The creative writing students fill the glittering campuses they then teach workshops inside of.

Top o’ the Stack

On the top of the bedside pile o’ books:

I happen to be reading another book by Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking. Amis was a notorious drinker and put together this entertaining book about drinks. I was surprised when he used the word eats as a noun meaning food. I used to see this usage occasionally in the deep South when I lived there as a child, usually on a faded sign for a faded café. And I think I had a little girlfriend who used the word. I thought it was a regional illiteracy, but could it have been a carryover from old England, much like “drinks”? Why not?

I have also undertaken an 800-page autobiography, which ordinarily I wouldn’t, but so far I’ve gotten about one-third through Whittaker Chambers’ engrossing Witness.


You know I hate to be picky, but I read that Obama uses the word “enormity” incorrectly, as do many of his fellow Americans. He uses it to mean something extremely big instead of extremely bad. He went to Harvard, after all, and edited the Harvard Law Review. Don’t tell me Shakespeare used that word that way. Even though the sense of outrageousness or going out of bounds is an old one, the meaning of evil is now so much attached to this word that it’s a bad idea to use the noun for anything that is not evil.

Facebook Freedom

Facebook has not only individual pages but pages for groups, causes, etc. Is it likely that there would be so many citizen groups springing up spontaneously to support non-secret ballots, per the “Employee Freedom of Choice Act”? I think not.

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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