Saturday, October 17, 2009

Parvum Opus 343 ~ Speak Softly and Carry a Nerf Stick

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere.


Speak Softly and Carry a Nerf Stick

Mark Steyn wrote about Obama’s Nobel Prize, and quoted a letter from Judi Romaine to The Times :

"I'm afraid I've registered into a very conversative* [sic], fear-based world here but I'd like to suggest the incredible notion we all create our worlds in our conversations. What are you building by maligning rather than creating discourses for workability? Bravo to Obama and others working for people, however it appears to cynics."

I guess this means if you say only nice things, only nice things will happen? By “conversative” does she mean conversation? At first read it seems to have something to do with “converse” or opposition. Which is what conversation’s all about, silly girl.

In one of my bits this week, I wrote about the fact that so much political commentary these days is about political language, name-calling, definitions and redefinitions, and manipulation of language in general. This is nothing new, of course. Perhaps you’ve heard that those who organize and attend Tea Party protests to the health care bill et al are called “teabaggers”. This has an obscene meaning which you can look up for yourself if you care to. Name-calling is one way of trivializing and ridiculing your opponents to reduce their credibility, and to avoid dealing with the issues themselves, a technique of Saul Alinsky’s, though he didn’t invent it. Maybe it’s a step up from demonizing one’s opponents.

By the way, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize recipient went to Rigoberta Menchu, who falsely claimed authorship of a 1982 autobiography which was later found to have been written by French Marxist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. I had heard that Menchu’s story was largely fictional, but didn’t know she had a ghost writer. When the fraud was discovered, neither the Nobel committee nor the teachers who’d been using the book in classes really cared. They thought it was “truth” even if it wasn’t true. It’s hard getting at the truth through lies, but if you’re conversative enough…

Quoth the Maven

Ben Zimmer wrote a good article on the late William Safire, language maven. Maven is a Yiddish word for expert, and Safire kidded himself by calling one of his books Quoth the Maven.

The Middle Wife

David Rogerson passed along a funny story that’s been making the rounds of the ‘Net for a long time called The Middle Wife, ascribed to an anonymous infant school teacher. There’s no way to trace its origins, but it’s quite realistic in the verbal misfires children make. The story goes that a little girl in show-and-tell acted out her mother’s labor with a pillow stuffed under her sweater and talked about the day her brother was born, the highlights being:

“He ate for nine months through an umbrella cord.”

“My Dad called the middle wife.”

“[My brother] was covered in yucky stuff that they all said it was from Mum's play-centre (placenta) so there must be a lot of toys inside there.”

This reminds me of when one of my sons at age 4 excitedly recognized his favorite characters in The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Tin and Doorknob.

Mike Sykes Cracks Down

I wrote:

Theodore Dalrymple wrote about “antisocial” vs. “hate crimes” in the UK: “the seriousness of an offense committed in Britain now depends upon who the victim is.” For example, a murder is worse if the victim is gay or disabled, etc. Why?

Mike wrote:

That's rubbish. It's quite clear from Dalrymple's quote that the seriousness of a crime is dependent on its motive, among other things. And I suspect even he would regard the assassination of a president (for whom he has voted) as more serious than the killing of a down-and-out.

Not because it’s a “hate crime”, though, even if the killer is seething with political hatred. It’s more akin to the way cops don’t give any slack to cop killers.

I wrote:

Deviancy or deviance is a statistical term meaning variant on average behavior, though it has also come to mean psychological perversion.

Mike sent this correction:

Neither the OED nor suggest that deviance (or its synonym deviancy) has been used in statistics. The word there is deviation, as in standard deviation.

I never did take a statistics class.

I wrote:

"The people who built America did it with both guns and religion."

Mike wrote:

… and by getting the native population out of the way, and clearing the plains of buffalo, and in some places slavery. Not that they were the only people to behave that way of course. But some nations have managed to move on more than others.

I don’t know why the population isn’t pouring out of our borders as I write. Anyway, I didn’t mean to rag on England, because we have some of the same problems today, though perhaps Mike and I don’t have the same sense of what’s a problem and what’s not.

Sydney J. Harris

I used to read Sydney J. Harris in the Akron Beacon Journal when I was in college, and his short columns on whatever was on his mind, more than anything else in the paper, for some reason made me want to write a syndicated column. Unfortunately I didn’t get on it until the newspapers started to wane; nowadays they don’t need a constant content feed. Harris has passed on and I can’t remember anything he wrote, except one thing that irritated me, which was that men get more attractive as they age, what with character lines and gray at the temples, but women deteriorate. I assume he was speaking of himself and his poor wife. Of course older men’s attractiveness is often helped along by their success and money (e.g. Hugh Hefner). (This does not apply to Fred, who shines like a good deed in a naughty world, as Shakespeare wrote.)

Nevertheless, I got a collection of Harris’s columns from the library and found something I vaguely remembered over the years but couldn’t place. He had fun with pairs or trios of adjectives that we use to praise ourselves and condemn others. Example of two-parters:

My son is “high-spirited,” but yours is a “roughneck.”

The three-parters were the ones I kept trying to remember, in the I-you-he format; they have a nice weight and balance:

I vote for the man, not the label; you vote for the personality that appeals to you; he votes for a golden-tongued demagogue.

How about: “I am distinguished looking; you look lived-in; he’s a sway-backed, pigeon-chested, pot-bellied, rheumy-eyed wreck.”

You can make a party game out of this. See below.

Quote of the Week

Helen Keller was a supporter of the eugenics movement, and said, “Our puny sentimentalism has caused us to forget that a human life is sacred only when it may be of some use to itself and to the world.”

Are you being useful enough? “Usefulness” justifies all abortions, of course, since embryos are all pre-useful, parasitical actually, and their futures are unpredictable, though the aborted tissues can be made use of to patch up other people who are more useful. Old people who aren’t making money, but are costing money, can’t be said to be useful, even if they have so-called “wisdom”, which you can’t measure. The best that can be said for them is that they provide jobs for the medical profession.

Keller herself would have been a candidate for waste removal in some times and places; I suppose she thought she was useful because she went on to write and speak publically, but she was never self-sufficient.

Fred corrected me once when I said I wanted to be “useful”; he thought I should say “helpful”, the idea being that human beings should not “use” each other, because we are ends in ourselves.

I am useful; you serve as a bad example; he’s a waste of space.

The Gritty Bits: My Week in

Cincinnati Tea Party in the rain, October 14, 2009

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Tea Partiers' statement: "On a cold wet day, Patriots held their ground and rallied for freedom, while most...

Sharia law in Ohio

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Rifqa Bary, the 17-year-old apostate, is safe in Florida until October 27, according to Pamela Geller. Rifqa is the...
Plain speech is a rare and unwelcome commodity

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Especially since the presidential election, a larger than ever proportion of political commentary is about the...

Libraries should focus on books

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

The November ballot will contain a tax levy to support Hamilton County libraries. Libraries are among the most...



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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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