Friday, September 4, 2009

Parvum Opus 337 ~ Mood Irrealis

Hair o’ the Hare

I’m not going to look this up, but shouldn’t “hair brained plot” (which I read in a blog) be “hare brained plot”? That is, as stupid as something a rabbit would dream up. Of course you might argue that a hair is even less intelligent than a rabbit.


Ben and Jerry’s has changed the name of its “Chubby Hubby” ice cream to “Hubby Hubby” in honor of the same-sex marriage law in Vermont. It’s a temporary change, just for the month of September. I think they should have rolled out an entirely new flavor, because it sort of makes me think of someone’s hubby changing his sexual preference mid-scoop. Not a good idea.

Preacher Curl

We’ve joined a new gym with lots of new machines by several different manufacturers. One is a bicep curl called Preacher Curl. Fred has heard of that, I haven’t. Why would you call this machine or this exercise a preacher curl? There’s also a preacher bench for exercising. Was there a piece of furniture customarily assigned to the preacher? Fred thinks it’s an Americanism for the prie-dieu, a bench for kneeling and leaning, which the preacher bench resembles. But prie-dieu is so French and so Catholic, while preacher bench is such a Protestant term, and I don’t recall that type of furniture in a Protestant church.


If you’re not familiar with ecclesiastical terminology, the word apologetics may be misleading. We almost invariably use the word “apologetic” (without the S) to refer to a tone of apology, that is, expressing regret for something. So when we hear about church apologetics, it sounds like someone is apologizing for something wrong. Apologetics and related words all come from the Greek word meaning defense. Church apologetics are detailed and reasoned explanations of tenets of faith. Ordinarily I’m not in favor of abandoning words because they’re unfamiliar to the average listener or reader — get a dictionary, sez I — but this is a case where if I used the word in an ordinary classroom, I would immediately define it, or else use a different word.

There are those who even think the subjunctive can be done away with, merely because so many people don’t get it. Daily Writing Tips thinks so, but if I were you I wouldn’t bite on that one yet. If you say “If I was you” you’re still going to sound sub-literate, at least for the time being. I did learn a new term from DWT, however: irrealis. This grammatical term refers to moods in English and other languages that refer to the unreal.

And Now for a Hymn

Most people know the old hymn “Amazing Grace” by reformed slave trader John Newton. You’ve heard it at church or at a funeral or on TV or from a bagpiper. Today, people sometimes change the second line of the first verse:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

Now you might hear:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved and set me free.

John Newton knew he was a wretch. Wretch, by the way, descends from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning exile. I don’t know if it retained any of that sense in the 18th century when Newton wrote the song, though Newton must have felt exiled from God. Today it just means some who’s miserable or vile, and who probably has poor self-esteem. Here’s my suggestion for another variation:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved my self esteem.

I stumbled across an interesting version of the song by The Dropkick Murphys, a Boston punk band, which keeps the word “wretch” but is interspersed with (it’s hard to make it out) their own song, “Good Rats”, about “a little lad named vermin McCann / who fell upon a drink that made him feel like quite a man”. The good rats eventually sink in the beer. Funny guys, those Murphys. They know a false paradise when they taste it.

Shine On

Anne DaBee suspected I might have meant “eke out your pension with a little moonlighting on the side” instead of “eke out your pension with a little moonshining on the side.” No, I meant moonshining. She went on:

Sounds good to me, and might be more profitable (and ultimately more fun) than the more usual "moonlighting". But then there's the nuisance of making a still, and what I've been told is the highly unpleasant smell of the actual distilling. Guess I'll stick with the moonlighting.

It is a nuisance, and vermin will fall into the still. Literally. My dad told the story of going to buy moonshine in the hills of West Virginia when he was a lad, but he changed his mind when he spotted rats floating in the ‘shine.

Anne also recounted another restaurant scam which was much like the scene in the movie Victor, Victoria, but she said “this was the brainchild of a TEACHER — who thought he was terribly clever, and saw nothing wrong with what he'd done. Glad none of MY kids were in his class, and God help those who were.” Now you know better than to mention God within 100 feet of a school.

Anne concluded, “glad you're better — and healing or heeling or whatever.” Those DaBees are irrepressible.


President Obama is planning to speak to school children and there’s been some grumbling that the federal government is interfering with curriculum, which is outside its scope. There’s nothing wrong with a president speaking to students. My objection might be to some of the questions, such as, How does President Obama inspire you? Things like that. Too much like a cult of personality. Schoolchildren should be studying the principles on which the country was founded, not the inspirational personality of a politician.

Spinner, Necker, Suicide, Brodie . . .

Herb H. wrote at technical length about the famous knob:

I wanted to mention that another name for the steering wheel spinner was Brodie knob. I capitalize Brodie because I always assumed it was originally someone's proper name. One definition for "brodie" was half a donut. It was the act of turning a very tight turn, portion of a circle, under maximum power so that the rear (driving) wheels were on the verge of breaking loose or actually did break loose and spin — which resulted in sideways skid of the rear wheels and an even tighter turn. I've heard it described as "laying down a brodie," though in my memory it was almost always said to "cut a brodie" or "cut a few brodies." If a brodie continued its tight turn through a circle, that was a "donut," cutting a donut. Reversing direction after each half circle would continue travel in one general direction, cutting a string of brodies. I didn't drive to school, but often rode to lunch with others … who embraced the practice of cutting a few final brodies on entering the school parking lot when returning from lunch. It was terrific for blowing off a little steam before going back into school for the afternoon. And it looked so cool that a bunch of other kids started imitating it as they in turn came across the school parking lot.

Okay, the knobs. I agree they were often called "necker knobs," primarily by old blue noses (of any age, mostly male). Reports of their being outlawed I believe are greatly exaggerated. The knobs remained useful on industrial (fork lift) trucks for many years. On cars, not so much. American cars in the 1940s and early 50s had big heavy engines and transmissions weighing down on the front wheels. Before power steering, they required far greater mechanical advantage just to be able to turn the steering wheel at low speed. It took a lot of turns of the steering wheel to move the front wheels from left lock to right lock or right to left. Car magazines used to report on steering responsiveness by giving the number of "turns lock to lock" in the report of a car test drive. Three turns lock to lock was about as fast as one could hope for out of Detroit, while 4 and a half turns lock to lock meant you had to do a lot of cranking of that wheel. Barry S. once said that you turn the wheel and the matter gets referred to a subcommittee.

Actual use as a "necker knob" probably gave rise to some problems that supported the blue noses in their castigation of "suicide knobs." Well, there were other reasons too for left-hand placement of the knob. For gooder or worser purposes, placing the knob for use in the left hand had some drawbacks. Many right-handed drivers didn't have either the strength or the control in the left arm and hand to turn over the (manual) steering job to that member. Vigorous driving often called for precise steering. Over-doing it with the left hand trying to control through that knob might result in a turnover (of a truck, probably not a car). If a front wheel in the process of cornering hit an unyielding obstacle — or perhaps went into a hole in the pavement — it COULD happen that the steering wheel would be knocked backward very forcefully. Again, more risk in a truck than a car. In that event a bare steering wheel would be hard to hold onto. A knob on the wheel could and reportedly did break the hand (thumb) that was hammered by the knob. Wherever that right hand was, it was needed very quickly in such a circumstance and possibly not available.

That kick-back of the steering wheel was more of a problem with a rack and pinion steering gear than with the worm and roller gear that was much more common on the big American cars of the day. I think it was also more of a problem in trucks because their steering wheels often operated in a more horizontal plane and they featured much bigger wheels on the pavement.

Herb recommended I buy one. It would look cool in my aging PT Cruiser… But Dave DaBee wrote:

Huh, I was told (lord knows by whom, long ago) that "suicide knob" was because in a crash it could puncture your chest. Your explanation makes more sense. AntiqueWish refers to "the unfortunate result of getting the knob stuck in your sleeve."

Risking death to look cool is the ultimate in cool.

This week on

National deficit is too big for your calculator

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Entrepreneur Matt Miles has built a new calculator big enough to display the new national deficit, which doesn't...
The dogs that didn't bark

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Once again the National Organization for Women has made a dubious political bargain by lauding Ted Kennedy after...
Chappaquiddick is old news

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy is being mourned as a great statesman, as a hero of the common people, as a Kennedy, though...
Deficit is not created by intelligent design

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

There's an old story about a professor who gave a lecture saying that the sun would burn out in a billion years,...



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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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