Saturday, September 19, 2009

Parvum Opus 339 ~ Faugh an Ballagh

Dogs and Grannies

David Rogerson reminded me from England that Shakespeare coined many words in common use today, including leapfrog and salad. “Salad” has an older Latin/Italian origin so my guess is that Shakespeare Anglicized it. I’d have to check the Oxford English Dictionary to delve any further.

David also introduced his note by saying “I expect I am telling my granny to suck eggs.” I was rather taken aback as this is not a phrase I’m familiar with. I know “egg-sucking dog” and was prepared to take offense but I realized: 1. a granny is not a dog; 2. I’m not old enough to be David’s granny; 3. there’s probably a difference between the egg-sucking of grannies and dogs.

Telling granny to suck eggs means telling telling somebody something she already knows very well, like a child would explain to granny how to poke holes in a raw egg to suck it. Since I never did that and would have found raw eggs revolting, the meaning wasn’t intuitive to me. (Although I did learn how to poke holes in eggs to blow the egg out, so you could decorate the empty egg for Easter.) An egg-sucking dog sneaks around in the hen house, though why and how a dog would suck eggs instead of crunching the shell, I don’t know. An egg-sucking dog is a dog you would chase with a shotgun. Granny is allowed to suck eggs.

Pants and Slacks

In the old Tracey and Hepburn movie, Pat and Mike, Hepburn’s annoying fiancé tells her to change from her pants into a skirt. She says, “These aren’t pants, these are slacks.” I don’t have a sense of distinction between the two as clothing, only as words. Slacks sounds a bit more formal only because it’s used less often. Slacks can be any pants, even if not part of a suit, ergo, more casual. You would expect the legs to be relatively loose fitting. From and for slackers?

Pants: from French PantalonPantalone, name of a character in Italian comedy, from the Venetian patron saint Pantalone or Pantaleone (pantos, panto- + leōn, lion): also, the garment worn by this character. Pants are tight in the legs.

Trousers: from obsolete trousetriubhas, trews. I’ve read “trews” somewhere but don’t know if was used as an intentional archaism, or if I read it in an old piece of literature.

Britches obviously comes from breeches, as in “Once more into the…!”

Word of the Weak

The 9/14/90 issue of Newsweek headlines the story “Is Your Baby Racist?” with a cover photo of a white baby though theoretically the racism research extended to selected humans divided by two racial classifications. I didn’t think the story would be edifying and read only the callouts, which give a pretty good idea of the gist of the article:

“Kids as young as six months judge others based on skin color.”

Infants as young as six months can also usually tell the difference between their mother and their father, and between familiar faces and strangers. What if a white baby has a black nanny, huh?

“Children will see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue.”

Be glad your child isn’t color blind or just plain blind.

“Minority children who are told repeatedly of discrimination are less likely to see a connection between hard work and success.”

Well, duh.

“Black children who hear messages of ethnic pride are more engaged in school and more likely to attribute their successes to effort and ability.”

But don’t tell white children about ethnic pride.

I still haven’t read the whole article but, only a review so far. The authors and editors interpret the rather lame research to be about innate racism, when it’s really about the ability of infants and children to make visual distinctions. Some of the study was of infants, but some was of children old enough to have been exposed to lots of TV as well as people. No comparison.

I guess it’s true that racism has to be taught, and Newsweek is doing its bit to teach it.

Second Weak Word

Green has turned quickly into a marketing label, as you may have noticed. While conservation and care are valuable, let us think before diving into what might end up being a layer of green algae on a stagnant pool.

1. Windmills kill a lot of birds.

2. Those energy-saving fluorescent curly light bulbs contain mercury and are more trouble to dispose of safely than a lot of people are probably going to bother with.

3. Humans are pretty inventive but we are not able to create the number, kind, and extremes of cycles that the earth and evolutionary species have already gone through.

4. Do we want to protect all species, such as the ebola virus, for instance? If everything that exists (depending on your druthers, everything created or spontaneously or accidentally existing) is necessary to the cycle of life, why have so many species disappeared without our help? The earth and the universe continued nicely without them. Now, do we need the ebola virus? Do we need the tiny fish that are being preserved at the expense of the California farmlands, which need irrigation? Why do some people want to preserve the tiny fish (which we don’t eat) but get rid of people?

5. A local building advertises “Green Space Available”. Maybe it means they’ve built in the latest energy-saving technology, which is good. But according to some builders, the greenest buildings are the old buildings still standing.


And speaking of weak words, don’t forget, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

This and That

[+] Bill R. wrote:

Going along with the “necker knob” (which, in my small town, was not generally used by teenagers because it was considered an “old folks” apparatus) is a characterization that’s been obsolete since bucket seats came into widespread use: “DDH” or “d****d door hugger,” applied to a young lady whose affection for the passenger side door outweighed her affection for the driver.

[+] Ben W. used the phrase “Ye glads” instead of “Ye gods”. Cute.

[+] A TV show was advertised “When animals strike”. For some reason I first thought of animals organizing and going on strike, maybe from too much news and politics in my brain.

[+] Father Robert Barron on YouTube comments on the culture in the series World on Fire, and usually he’s thoughtful and interesting. But in his review of the new movie District 9 — I haven’t seen it but it’s an alien monster movie — Fr. Barron laments that the humans “dehumanize” the aliens by calling them “prawns”. In fact, they are NOT humans so they can’t be “dehumanized”. I gather that this is one of those stories that’s supposed to teach us that just because they don’t look like us, that’s no reason to etc. etc. etc. Like, put yourself in the place of aliens in the Alien movie series: of course you’d want to incorporate a human into your body for breeding or nutritional purposes or whatever you needed if you were one of them, just like we eat animals and innocent fruits and tubers and legumes. No difference between you and a bean sprout, except that the sprout is not a human.

[+] In the 1946 movie, Till the End of Time, San Diego is referred to as “Dago”. I rewound it and listened twice to make sure I hadn’t misheard it. I’ve never heard this anywhere else but it is analogous to “Frisco” for San Francisco. (The movie isn’t readily available but try to catch it on TV.) San Franciscans don’t like “Frisco” but it’s still around. I suppose “Dago” could have disappeared because it’s also an unfriendly slang word for Italian (or Spanish or Portuguese).

[+] Have fun with magazines by putting your photo on a cover at Fake Magazine Cover online.

[+] Town & Country magazine says a row of antique stores in Hudson, New York, “leads to a bucolic riverside promenade”. They didn’t have photos of the promenade but anything that close to 1. a body of water and 2. a row of antique stores probably isn’t terribly rural looking or suitable for pasturing sheep.

[+] On a TV text crawler: “Our dynamic do woe…”

[+] This summer I went with my brother to an Irish club, basically a private bar for the Irish and friends. The motto of their Celtic Guard Curling Club is “Trample the wounded, hurdle the dead.” I need to get the T-shirt. This would an extension of the Irish battle cry “Faugh an Ballagh” (among other spellings) meaning “clear the way”.

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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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