Friday, August 14, 2009

Parvum Opus 334 ~ O Say Can You See

TV Land

>>> Quite some time ago I mentioned the original meaning of “cute” as something like clever, derived from “acute”. The word was still in transition in 1937, as I discovered in my weeks-long movie marathon while waiting for my arm to heal. In Marked Woman, with Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, one thug asks another about some criminal plan: “Is it cute?” “Everything I do is cute.” They were serious and they weren’t asking if they were adorable.

>>> A more modern bit of criminal jargon is “lick”, heard on the crime series 48 Hours. A criminal in Dallas said, “We went in for a lick”, meaning to rob the place.

>>> On LA Ink (about a tattoo parlor): “It ain’t rocket surgery.”

>>> In a new British production of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery, Murder Is Easy, someone says, “He was mentally deficient, or to put it more kindly, a simpleton.” The book was first published in 1939, and assuming the movie kept the original dialogue, we have here an interesting example of changes in euphemistic fashion. Why was “simpleton” a kinder term than the slightly clinical sounding “mentally deficient”? Nowadays it doesn’t sound so genteelly neutral. Perhaps any synonym that has been used as an insult goes out of favor: You simpleton! Idiot! Moron! Fool! Retard! The currently acceptable pseudo-scientific term (unless I’ve missed something newer) is “developmentally disabled”. The terms for everyday use in referring to someone who is unfortunately congenitally and constantly, uh, slow get more and more bulky.

Romeo and Juliet in the Park

For years I’ve caught Shakespeare in parks when I can, starting in Boston and now around Cincinnati. Even the most amateur productions have some merit, and I’m always impressed with the effectiveness of very simple sets. Last weekend we saw Romeo and Juliet, not my favorite but of course always engaging.

This production was rather odd since Romeo was not the most romantic looking boy on stage or even in the park, and further because Romeo and Juliet both were played for comedy in the first half. They played high-strung teens totally lacking in romance, at least to my ears. The transition from farcical “love” to tragic death was clumsy.

The set consisted of walls covered with small posters for the Capulets and the Montagues. The Capulet posters were red, vaguely Communist looking with three upthrust arms holding AK-47s in the air with flowers stuck in the barrels. The Montague posters were black with bastardized versions of the American eagle and anti-American slogans about greed, etc. Shakespeare made it clear that the two feuding families were “alike in dignity”, not divided by ideological differences, so when I saw the posters I started to wonder if someone was going to rewrite the dialogue, but fortunately not.

O Say Can You See The Great Gatsby

Did you know the F in F. Scott Fitzgerald was Francis? What’s more, did you know his full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald? Yes, the writer of the American anthem.

De Gustibus

Regarding my complaint about argument, Mike Sykes wrote:

De gustibus non disputandum. Of course, if you actually enjoy an argument, ...
I seem to remember a quote from GKC: I hate a quarrel because it interrupts an argument.

I keep trying to stick to argument but I keep getting slapped with abuse from odd quarters, a la the Monty Python’s Argument Clinic.

Much of PO concerns rhetoric, which today is often mistakenly taken to mean false or misleading argument. Actually it just means the techniques of speech and writing that we use to help convey our point or convince others. These are not automatically dishonest.

One rhetorical device I use when discussing anything controversial (political) is to be careful which links I use to report a source. Many readers will accept anything printed in the New York Times but will reject the same information from Fox News (although they don’t always report the same stories; there are holes in the news). So I try to use the most popular or apparently neutral source for a story.

For instance, in “Smelt survive farmers” below, I found a link to the story on “Patriot” is a positive conservative word, not that liberals aren’t patriotic but let’s get real; gay is a positive buzz word for liberals as well as many others. I want to filter out or balance as many buzz words or memes as possible so we can think about the smelt. As long as the facts are correct, this technique is honest.

When you only speak to people who agree with you about everything, it’s not necessary to be careful. In the past, my opinions were usually the popular ones. Now they’re not (the world changed and some of my opinions changed), and I don’t assume I’m writing to or speaking to people who agree with me on everything or who have walked in my steps, so PO has been an exercise in developing rhetorical technique. I seem to have started in training as a young girl in arguments with my parents. Logic didn’t work them, at least what logic I was able to muster. And if I thought I was logical in the past and I think that I’m logical now, when my life and ideas are quite different, where does that leave logic? I don’t know how often people are swayed by logic, or even facts.

Rhetoric involves logic, appeals to the emotion, and appeals to authority (such as the selected Web links), none of which might work when self-interest or ego are involved.

Personally attacking people who disagree with you (or me), i.e. calling names, may be honest, but it’s not sound argument and I usually draw the line there.

I’ve been reading about the Rules for Radicals propounded by Saul Alinsky, who was a great influence on both Obama and Hillary Clinton. He dedicated RforR to Lucifer, the “first radical”. His “community organizing” rules were really rules for people outside a community to use the community to take power. He was all about the ends justifying the means, and the ends were power, not truth. One technique is ridiculing your opponents and their ideas, precluding discussion.

There’s no need to discuss anything you don’t care to, but often people are not playing by the same rules. So we need to learn the various rules.

Here are my new posts (if links don’t work go to

Redistribution of green in Sahara Desert

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

According to National Geographic News, the Sahara is turning green in places — due to global warming. Or...
Obama offers Post Office as loser business model

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Obama does seem to be getting more open or transparent, as he promised. On a clear day you can see right through...
Smelt survive farmers

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

What’s a recession without a dust bowl? Some California farmers are posting signs in their parched fields and...
U.S. birth rate declines for the first year in decade

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. birth rate fell in 2008, the first annual decline for a decade. Experts...
White House scans Web

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The White House seems to be using sophisticated web scanning programs to search for and pick up selected...


The spider must be killed today

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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.

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