Saturday, March 21, 2009

Parvum Opus 317 ~ Person-Caused Weaseling

Dave, Daily Writing Tips, and Fowler

Dave DaBee turned me on to Daily Writing Tips, which I added to my home page RSS feeds. Modernizing Liturgical English was interesting to me for a couple of reasons, especially this quote from:

Richard Hodges’s A Special Help to Orthographie (1643) in which the writer notes the disconnect between how verbs are written and how they are pronounced in ordinary speech:

“Howsoever wee use to Write thus, leadeth it, maketh it, noteth it, raketh it, perfumeth it, etc. Yet in our ordinary speech (which is best to bee understood) wee say, leads it, makes it, notes it, rakes it, perfumes it.”

I don’t know a lot about early orthographie or why one spelling was chosen over another, let alone why people switched from makes to maketh before the ink was dry. But Richard Hodges was a man after my own heart.

Dave is also interested in the difference between toward and towards as discussed on DWT with the very fine explanations from Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

And as if he hadn’t done enough, Dave also sent an article by Fred Shapiro in The New York Times about the attribution of a definition of success that’s circled the globe a million times and has been wrongly attributed to Emerson. I’ve written before about false attributions in e-mails. Sometimes they are just mistakes that get repeated. Sometimes the attributions are forced, as in those various bits of advice supposedly from the Dalai Lama that sound like they issued forth from a man wearing a ponytail and clogs (e.g., “Cooking and lovemaking should be approached with abandon”). Why drag the poor old Dalai Lama into it? He has enough problems.

More from Fowler, illustrating the importance of punctuation:

!!! The teacher beat the scholar with a whip. A simple description.
!!! The teacher beat the scholar, with a whip. For emphasis, as an expression of outrage; or to clarify that the teacher whipped the scholar, rather than the teacher beat a scholar who had a whip.

Note: No scholars were hurt in the exposition of this grammatical principle.

Daily Writing Tips also has a long discussion of the difference between toward and towards, both of which are in common use. Somewhere along the way I learned that toward is correct but I don’t know why and have no particular rationale or feeling about it. I would think that towards is analogous to the construction backwards, while toward resembles forward. Fowler says this regarding pronounciation with one or two syllables: “The prepositions are best pronounced [tord(z)], but in recent use the influence of spelling is forcing [toowor'd(z)] on the half educated.” He cuts deep and sharp.


I learned how to embed type fonts, so I’m trying it with this edition of Parvum Opus, hoping that it will work with special characters. It makes for a heftier file weight, but let me know if you notice anything different. Or untoward.

If you want to try it, so as to keep the fonts you choose in the documents you send even if the recipients do not have the same fonts in their computers, do this:

In Word 2007:

Click the multi-colored icon in the upper left corner.

Go to Word Options, then Save, then click Embed Fonts.

Other versions of Word:

Go to Tools, then Options, then Embed fonts.

You should choose to embed all, not just those in use, which means that if the recipient downloads the file and corrects a typo, for instance, the original font will be there.

Would you buy a used car from Satan?

I learned that someone we know occasionally calls his son, now a middle-aged adult, Satan, apparently an old nickname. I'd be curious to meet a grown-up who stuck with such a nickname — it might work at the age of two and maybe, oh, sixteen, but not at fortyish. And no, I probably wouldn't buy a used (or new) car from him.

Person-Caused Weaseling

Here (the U.S.) and there (England) government ’crats are anxious to avoid using the word “Muslim” and “terror” in the same sentence. In the UK, it’s now “anti-Muslim activity” which is correct as far as it goes. Mark Steyn as usual is both entertaining and instructive on the subject.

The Big O’s new Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, introduced the phrase “man-caused disasters” to replace you know what. Sweet. Of course you can make the case that she’s being sexist. What about females of a not-to-be-named persuasion who hide bombs under their, uh, frocks?

I think we could totally switch to the passive tense to solve this problem. As Anita Loos wrote in the book Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “Suddenly he became shot!” Suddenly the buildings fell down! Suddenly they became exploded! Stuff happens!

Frank Davis of the Mercury News wrote about the current campaign to come up with words to put a more friendly spin on the disasters around us. For example:

bailout > rescue

pullout > drawdown

nationalization > receivership

pork > earmark > congressionally directed spending items

Try it at home with your family! With a little effort, you can turn that frown upside down by converting plain English to weasel words!

Read the Book

I watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil again last week. It’s been a while since I read the book but I read it at least three times, once recording it for the blind. I enjoyed the movie but the book was better, and the movie threw in something that I’m not sure was in the book, at least not the same way. Kevin Spacey plays the man in Savannah arrested for the murder of his young lover (true story), who was providing his services to everyone in town, male and female. The case was tried three times, making it a most unusual crime story. The movie added what felt like a Greek chorus pointing out the moral to the audience: the Spacey character was on trial for being gay. No, they tried him because he shot a man and they were trying to decide whether it was murder or self-defense. Since the victim was also gay or rather bi-sexual, the moral could not have been about anti-gayness. The man who shot him was to my mind more anti-gay than the jury, who shot no one.

I went to see the author, John Berendt, in Boston some years ago, talking about his book. Someone in the audience asked if he liked the movie, and he just said that it paid for his townhouse.

I’ve heard other authors comment on movie-ized versions of their books. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone mystery series was ground up and shoved into a movie casing with Kathleen Turner as the detective running around the city chasing bad guys — while wearing high heels. Another writer whose name I forget wrote a book about the transport of Jewish refugee children during WWII; in a script meeting, some young thing asked “Why all the Jewish stuff?” Take the money and run. In high heels if necessary.

PO Aweigh

A bit of doggerel I wrote, though I don’t really mean it:

Away with words

if you don’t

weigh your words

or have

a way with words.

With Our Ship Bumper Full We Will Homeward Repair

Repair, meaning return, has become an archaism, almost never used now except as an affectation. It comes from the Latin for repatriate, to go back to one’s country. For an example of 19th century usage, here’s a beautiful song called “Farewell to Tarwathie” by George Scroggie, about whalers going to sea, setting out from the northeast coast of Scotland. Judy Collins did a wonderful version of it, complete with whale voices, but this version sounds more like a sailor.

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

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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