Saturday, October 24, 2009

Parvum Opus 344 ~ Intellectual Dipstick

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere.


Shakespeare and Che

This summer in PO 334 I wrote about a production of Romeo and Juliet that used political posters in its minimal set design, a sort of communist/capitalist theme that had nothing to do with the play. In a 2000 movie production of Hamlet set in contemporary New York City, Hamlet had a Che Guevara poster on the wall of his very expensive apartment. Even had Che been the sort of hero that so many imagine, this radical icon in the prince’s apartment makes Hamlet out to be a deluded juvenile rather than a young man wrestling with truth and shadows. These kinds of stage settings show more about today’s designers and producers than about Shakespeare’s intentions. Shakespeare didn’t write about econo-political systems. Modern stage settings work OK but the producers sometimes want to ignore the real themes of morality and spiritual struggle. Everyone seems to have been infected by the deconstructionist interpretation of everything in the world in class/race/gender political terms.

Thus Ammon Shea wrote on old dictionaries:

The view that it is necessary to use dictionaries from the historical era with which you are most concerned is apparently shared by certain judges, especially those justices on the United States Supreme Court who have embraced the constitutional theory of originalism. Of these justices, Antonin Scalia in particular has shown a marked habit of citing older reference works. …in addition to using modern standard dictionaries, Scalia employed Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), James Buchanan’s Linguae Britannicae (1757), Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum (1730), John Kersey’s New English Dictionary (1702), Thomas Sheridan’s General Dictionary of the English Language (1780) and John Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791) — and that was just in the opinions he wrote from 1988 to 1992.

Judges should be learned in history as well, of course, to understand how people thought 200+ years ago and what they meant by their words, which may not be exactly what, say, David Letterman means, for instance.

Ammonia and Mutual Funds

Agnes, my alter ego, tells her friend she’s starting a syndicated column:

My syndicated column will be humor mixed with household hints and dovetailed into political opinion.


Yes, wow…It will be one-stop shopping for all of your column needs … and I will do it all in less than one hundred words with few syllables. OK … what rhymes with ammonia and mutual funds?

All that and poetry, too…what’s not to like?

I have risen (or sunk) to Agnes’ challenge. Here’s my entry:

There once was a gal named Begonia

Who cleaned Wall Street out with ammonia.

She’d lost by the tons

In mutual funds

But said, “Rather clean ya than stone ya.”

Visual Thesaurus

Visual Thesaurus is an entertaining web site on words with features such as word lists and word mapping. They also publish a magazine for subscribers, but you can get a free 14-day trial.

The Full Socratian Monty

Now more than ever we need a good argument clinic. Here’s a web site on Socratian dialogue based on Monty Python’s argument clinic, where you can learn to discuss truth, justice, courage, and beauty.

While you’re at it, check out this blog in Latin that Tom Simon sent. You don’t think I really understand it, do you?


You technical people probably know that “kludge” is a mechanical fix lacking in elegance. The OED lists 1962 as earliest appearance of kludge, though the German word “kluge” goes back further, at least to WWII. It’s like mechanical sludge. I learned the word from a fabulous web site called There, I fixed it. I’ve contributed my own photo to this site though I don’t know if or when they’ll use it. Since I don’t send attachments with Parvum Opus, I’ll explain: This week I took a photo of a house with the siding missing and the windows covered with plywood painted white that had sort of portholes badly cut out of them.

This Week’s Intellectual Dipstick Gauge

In a friend’s Facebook thread about Margaret Mead, I commented that her research or her theories had been discredited to some degree, and someone else quoted Derek Freeman, who described incongruities between Mead's published research and his observations of Samoans:

Freeman: In my early work I had, in my unquestioning acceptance of Mead's writings, tended to dismiss all evidence that ran counter to her findings. By the end of 1942, however, it had become apparent to me that much of what she had written about the inhabitants of Manu'a in eastern Samoa did not apply to the people of western Samoa.... Many educated Samoans, especially those who had attended college in New Zealand, had become familiar with Mead's writings about their culture ... [and] entreated me, as an anthropologist, to correct her mistaken depiction of the Samoan ethos.

Facebook guy: Anyway ... so what? Pretty much all of Freud's ideas have been [sic — discredited?] as well ... doesn't make his research any less important.

Truth is the “so what” trigger. This is what makes discussion so difficult. It doesn’t matter what’s true or false, it’s what you like to believe or are used to believing, or what or who is “important”.


This slightly edited conversation appeared on Overheard in New York:

Woman to friends: Girl, you know how to do some rollers?
Friend: Damn, honey, I don't know how to do none of that s**t. I could braid, I could perm, but that's it. You know that b***h Julia, she Mexican. She could do it. She know how to multitask.

The woman used “multitask” to mean knowing how to do several things, rather than doing several things at the same time. After all, you can’t roll, braid, and perm hair simultaneously. I wonder if this is a harbinger of the way this word is going to go in the future?

Not Quite Right

<|||> “…the most legendary creature of all time.” Are there degrees of legendariness? A creature is either a legend or it’s not. However, “legendary” is used sloppily to mean famous or impressive, which isn’t quite the same thing.

<|||> “the judge commands authority.” A judge may have authority, but he may command respect. Authority comes with the position. Respect or admiration may be commanded by behavior.

<|||> TV decorator: “Those are foundry parts native to this region.” Factory equipment is made, not born.

Lon Don

On TV a man from south of London pronounced it to rhyme with Don John rather than Fund’n. The vowels and the syllable stress were different, including the very slight pause between syllables. Is this pronunciation common in that part of England?


Did you know that the root of the word “monster” is the same as of demonstrate, admonish, and monitor? They come from the Latin monstrum, divine portent of misfortune. Hmm. The outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual something or other? Halloween is coming, watch out.

Not Defunct

Over the years I have quoted from Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage from time to time. Garner is a lawyer and his tips on language are well thought out. Here’s his e-mail about the newest version of his book:

If you’re a fan of my usage tips and Garner’s Modern American Usage…I have a favor to ask of you as a loyal reader: In the next few hours or days, would you please go to or and buy one or more copies of the new third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage as holiday presents? In fact, keep this gift possibility in mind through the end of the year, won't you?

I need your help in sending a message to the major bookstore chains: they’re not stocking the book because they’ve told Oxford University Press that they consider usage guides a “defunct category.” It’s maddeningly unbelievable. Please help me show them that they’re stupendously wrong.

Meanwhile, in the coming months you might ask about the book when you’re in a bookstore: ask the managers why they don’t stock copies, and encourage them to do so.

If you’re curious to see what effect you’re having, watch the rankings on or in coming days and weeks. We’ll be alerting the major chains to those numbers, and we want to get as close to the top 50 as we can. If you're trying to order and see that the book is labeled "out of stock," order anyway: the effort is also to ensure that the online booksellers keep adequate stocks.

In return for this favor — it’s a grassroots effort — I’ll be happy to inscribe copies that you send to LawProse for that purpose, if you (1) include a filled-out FedEx airbill for returning them to you, and (2) suggest an appropriate inscription.

Thank you for whatever help you can provide in this endeavor to show booksellers that the concern for good English is alive and well.

Bryan A. Garner

The bookstores should not make “usage” a defunct category. Usage guides are not dictionaries, thesauri, or grammar books, and they serve a valuable purpose for those who enjoy language.

My Gritty Bits in This Week’s Examiner.Com

Cap and Trade = Scam and Greed

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Standing in front of the pictures by Norman Rockwell depicting our four freedoms, Mike Carey, President of the Ohio...
Prisoners of war committed hate crimes against non-protected groups

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

If Guantanamo prisoners are tried in American courts, will they be accused of hate crimes? They hate Westerners,...
The Freedom Center's "us/them" message

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

The Freedom Center is mounting an exhibit about lynchings of blacks in the United States between 1882 and 1968, to...
The "So What?" approach to truth is the path to demagoguery

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Scrutiny of sociologist Margaret Mead's research in Samoa cast doubt on her conclusions as to the freewheeling sex...
Fewer people are useful today

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Helen Keller was a supporter of the eugenics movement, and said, “Our puny sentimentalism has caused us to...



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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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