Friday, July 3, 2009

Parvum Opus 332 ~ Autochthonous on the 4th of July

Autochthonous on the 4th of July

I’ve written before about “Native American” meaning “Indian” (everything ought to be in quotes, I guess). I’m a native American since I was born here. Indians I’ve known preferred to be known by their tribal names: Pojoaque, Seneca, etc. Bryan Garner’s Daily Usage Tips provides some history:

The term "Native American" proliferated in the 1970s to denote groups served by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs: American Indians as well as the Eskimos and Aleuts of Alaska. Later, the term was interpreted as including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and it fell into disfavor among some Indian and Alaskan groups, who came to prefer "American Indian" and "Alaska Native." Yet views are unpredictable: some consider "Native American" more respectful than "American Indian."
As an equivalent to "American Indian," the phrase "Native American" was long thought to be a 20th-century innovation. In fact, the phrase dates back to at least 1737 in this sense. And it made literal sense then, since most people who had been born in the New World were indigenous — not of European descent.
By the 19th century, when the term "Native American" was fairly common, it had become ambiguous, since it often referred to any person born in the United States, whether of indigenous or of European descent. …

The phrase "indigenous American," which is more logically and etymologically correct, does have some support. …

Meanwhile, the synonymous phrase "autochthonous American" hasn't ever caught on. No surprise there.

After looking up the roots of “indigenous” I can’t see that it’s logically or etymologically superior to “native” since they mean pretty much the same thing, as does “autochtonous”, as well as aboriginal or any other substitutes for “Indian”. The question is really, how many generations back did your ancestors arrive in America? Even the people called Indians are presumed to have migrated long ago over the Bering Strait or in boats from the South Pacific or even Asia, or possibly even from Europe. Maybe someone has a theory about South Americans coming from Africa. But I was born here under this government, and any Indians alive now were also born here in this era in this nation. There are only native Americans and immigrants. Unless you want to talk about “race”. Redskins, anyone?

Self Esteem + Relativism + Fake Diversity = Why Bother

Dave DaBee and I both choked on this Daily Writing Tips entry:

Why Bother About Correctness?

I often receive emails from readers who profess to see no reason to worry about standard forms of spelling or usage. I say “profess” because if they are reading DWT posts, they must care a little.

Here’s a recent comment:

does it really matter b/c everyone has their own way of speaking, writing, and thinking and the languages and “right” ways of spelling our only set up and there… truely their is no wrong or right way to spell because everyhitng was just though up by someone eles… such as books are thoughup by theirs writers…

On the face of it, this comment suggests that the writer does not assign much meaning to language or to thought. And there’s no reason that he/she should. According to some thinkers, the only meaning life has is the meaning we choose to give it. So no, in the grand scheme of the universe, it doesn’t matter if you spell truly with an e. The stars are not going to fall because of it.

Stars may not fall but other things will, both material and abstract, depending on the students’ courses of study. I’m not sure if Mr. Daily Writing Tips really thinks there’s no reason to assign meaning to language or thought, let alone spelling. If he’s being sarcastic, he’s not good at sarcasm.

This idea that there is no right or wrong in language — or anything else — has become an educational principle in latter decades, and many of the newer teachers who got their degrees in this intellectual climate agree with the barely literate philosophy above, and their skills may be little better than that writer’s, who clearly is swollen with self-esteem.

[|||] In Ak-Ron a couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a former comrade in teaching arms who stuck it out a few years longer than I did. She said one of the last straws was when she intended to flunk a bright student who missed 27 classes and didn’t do the work. (Another straw was when the university wouldn’t allow the temp instructors to use the library between semesters.) The department passed the student anyway, without the instructor’s signature. That was about money; they were afraid the student would quit rather than re-take the class. I wonder what that student is doing now. My friend is still picking last straws out of her hair.

[|||] Walter E. Williams wrote about the disaster of placing “diversity” above academics. You’d think Asian students would fill diversity quotas in universities, wouldn’t you? But no. They study too much, and if schools give priority to good students, they’ll have too many Asians. They’re not looking to diversify their athletic teams, though. I think there should be more 100-pound Asians in college football.

Obama’s Dreams

Jack Cashill has written further about his theories on the authorship of Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father.

Mike Sykes, by the way, thought he detected a hint of snideness in my reference to Obama’s remarks on “vigorous debate” in Iran. It is true that he may have said that before the election and ensuing riots and killing, in which case I was being prematurely snide. Obama was merely suffering from premature congratulation.

This week, O’ seems to have sided with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Castro in condemning a “coup” in Honduras, but it was not a coup, as a trained lawyer ought to know. The elected president was ousted by military, true, but they replaced him with someone from the same party, acting on the orders of the Supreme Court, because the president was attempting to subvert their constitutionally prescribed single-term limit and pull off a Castro/Chavez leader-for-life deal.

Also in the O’news, Congress contemplates a law that would require people who choose not to buy health insurance to pay a hefty fine, say $1,000. I don’t know if that would be a repeating fine, due monthly, perhaps, until the finee pays up. People who can’t afford the fine will have it paid by the gov’t (taxes), but you’d think the gov’t would arrange for everyone’s health insurance to be paid automatically from the get-go to avoid the mess.

Out of the Surf

Kara DeFrias, bless her heart, has written an Ode to the Serial Comma, patterned after Shakespeare:

Part 1 (a la Romeo and Juliet)
‘Tis but thy serial comma that is my enemy;
Thou art punctuation, though not an agreed upon one.
What’s agreed? It is nor placement, nor style,
Nor usage, nor style guide, nor any other part
Belonging to a keyboard. O, be some other keystroke!
What’s in a name? That which we call a comma
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Writer would, were he not Writer call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Writer, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all thy commas.

Part 2 (Much Ado About Nothing)
He that uses a serial comma is more than a youth
And he that uses no serial comma is less than a man.

From this blog I also discovered Talk Like Shakespeare Day.


Once again the results of the annual Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest are in. I may have previously expressed my disappointment at not having won long ago with an entry having to do with an albino. But I can always try again, and you can too. The current winners are a bit formulaic. My favorite is one of the Dishonorable Mentions:

No man is an island, so they say, although the small crustaceans and the bird which sat impassively on Dirk Manhope's chest as he floated lazily in the pool would probably disagree.

Glen Robins
Brighton, East Sussex, U.K.

That’s Personal Information

I got an e-mail advertisement from Amazon that started out: “As someone who has shown an interest in footwear…”

That would be me, because I bought a pair of shoes from Amazon last year. But they make it sound so … creepy.


Writer’s Digest is celebrating 90 years of publication of articles like “Writing for the Talkies” (1931), “Writing Comedy for Jackie Gleason” (1966), and “Writing Light Verse Is Heavy” (1972). Check it out if you’re interested in type fonts and older styles of graphic art.



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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; 2009 issues are 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.