Saturday, November 7, 2009

Parvum Opus 346: A Practical Education

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere.


Without Literary Merit

I sent my l limerick from PO 344 (“There was a young girl named Begonia”) to cartoonist Tony Cochran, who kindly wrote back: “I love it!!! It is useless and without literary merit, just like me! I will probably steal it. Tony Cochran”

I am huge fan of his cartoon, Agnes, and hope he does steal it.

A Practical Education

Thanks to Pat Geiger, a sister English grad student and teaching colleague when we were mere tadpoles, for this item about a new class at The U. of Akron, Profiling Serial Killers. I guess it’s another step in becoming a high-level trade school. As Bill Habbeck, a 20-year-old student from Hartville, said, ''Compared with math and English, this is stuff you can actually use.'' Another student, Anthony Tomei of Akron, said, ''She teaches you to guess. You can't figure out anything if you don't guess.” Yep, you don’t need to speak, write, or calculate as long as you can guess. Somehow I think the students misunderstood the instructor. But logicians need not enroll.

The journalist, who possibly graduated from Akron U. without needing language or logic, wrote that the teacher profiles serial killers as people who have no “controls on their inhibitions”. As Rod Stewart sang to a “virgin child”, “Just let your inhibitions run wild.” I would think serial killers already have their inhibitions thoroughly suppressed, but I’m just guessing.


I don’t know who coined this word but a Cinci blogger recorded “nonument” as an empty store or building left standing too long.

And Now for a Hymn

In Hank Williams, Sr.’s great song “I Saw the Light” he sings “for strait is the gate and narrow the way”. Strait here is not to be confused with straight. Strait means tight and narrow, like a strait jacket or the Straits of Gibraltar.

You Can’t Say That or That

Politics always makes everyone crazy one way or another. In this week’s off-year election, people find it hard to speak or to listen clearly.

A Cincinnati Enquirer headline read, “Tuesday's voter: Older, whiter”. The idea is that in off-year elections, most of the people who bother to vote on things like city councilmen and local taxes and other uninteresting but locally important issues are older, and also white, and often live in the suburbs. That’s a fact. But several people were mightily offended at this headline and complained to the paper. Imagine if the headline was “Voters are blacker”, they whined. Well, what if it was? Where’s the insult? Do readers imagine that voters were individually becoming more white? Are they offended by the facts of voter turnout? I don’t get it.

And then there was the return of the “retardation” squeamishness. This week’s election presented a tax levy for an MRDD program because it was too late to legally change the agency name to DD. “Developmentally Disabled” includes “Mental Retardation” but it is felt (not thought) that “retardation” is offensive. The term “mentally retarded” was a pseudo-scientific sounding replacement for old terms such as simple, backward, slow, or natural (just as “developmentally disabled” replaced the earlier euphemism “handicapped”). But now the MR euphemism grates on some people’s ears, as if it’s an insult. You might as well say that “broken bone” is offensive to people who break a bone.

Some people can’t speak the truth without twisting themselves into a knot. The truth is that some disabilities are mental. Nobody’s fault, but many can’t be cured, corrected, or changed. Perhaps there used to be more acceptance of this kind of natural “diversity” when people weren’t so exercised as to how to speak of different kinds of people.

There will always be people who abuse others verbally, as when schoolyard bullies call each other “tards” whether or not they are in fact mentally handicapped. If the term “retarded” is retired and replaced with something more vague, the bullies will find other words.

The Poetry Corner

We’ve had mice and bought mouse traps. So far we’ve caught half a dozen mice and carried them, both live and late, over the hill at the end of the street to give them a natural burial in piles of leaves, or possibly a chance for escape and recovery in a couple of cases. I feel sympathy for the little guys, yet we can’t have mice in the kitchen. The live trap didn’t attract any mice.

Robert Burns turned up mouse’s home with his plough and wrote the famous poem “To a Mouse” expressing the human sense of compassion for the fellow creatures we disturb and kill. At one time, I even left house spiders alone, thinking they would eat other insects, until I saw that they bit my children. I had a friend who was a very clean nurse but also a Buddhist and like Albert Schweitzer, who escorted the flies outside, would carry cockroaches outside. It’s not a matter of whether spiders and mice have a right to live, it’s a matter of self-defense.

Last year in Scotland, Carol Anderson, owner of Bridgefield Books in Stonehaven, mentioned Robert Burns and said no girl would have a defense against a man with such poetry. True. But Burns had to farm, and we have to keep vermin out of our house. (I’m not sure but I think the book Carol is holding in the photo in the link maybe be about Burns; can’t quite make it out.)

Go-To Brit

Mike Sykes wasn’t familiar with the expression “go-to” as in “my go-to Brit”. I explained that it means my expert source (on British English).

As such, he says he’s never heard “to shop around the corner” meaning to be gay, though he searched around and found one example in the Guardian. He also found more on kludge, and also dug up a long list of programming epigrams, one of which is,

Get into a rut early: Do the same processes the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize. The only difference (!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list — not the size of his vocabulary.

I think not. Shakespeare originated a lot of idioms, but he did more than that.

Regarding movie remakes, Mike commented on a very early Hitchcock movie, The 39 Steps, which he thinks is awful. I’ve seen it and it has a weak plot (and I don’t think it’s been remade), but has a period charm for me. But you’d probably have to be a huge Hitchcock aficionado to really like it.

Interestingly, both Mike and Dave DaBee were surprised at the Acorn story. I wouldn’t expect Mike to be at all aware of Acorn, and American Dave has been very busy with his big new projects and can’t keep up with all the news. So Dave didn’t know the story — perhaps it was skipped past quickly in the major media — and Mike couldn’t quite believe it. Regarding which, see my Examiner story below, “News sources editorialize by omission”.

The Gritty Bits: My Week on

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A rally is scheduled to support Rifqa Bary, the 17-year-old girl who said her life was threatened after she...

Anita Dunn speaks for Obama

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Obama's communications director, Anita Dunn, said her favorite "philosophers" are Mother Theresa and...



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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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