Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Parvum Opus 353: You Say Tomato, I Am Outraged

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere.



Not sure if Bill Roberts wrote this limerick, but he sent it in answer to “buzzards seldom work”:

Neither do bustards. (We were in Groton when Mohegan College had their Asimov-judged limerick contest.)

The bustard's an exquisite fowl

With minimal reason to growl:

He escapes what would be


By grace of a fortunate vowel.

You Say Tomato, I Am Outraged

In Malaysia “Muslims [are] outraged over a ruling this past weekend that allows the country’s 850,000 Roman Catholics to use the word Allah to describe God.” A Malaysian newspaper uses the word to mean God because some indigenous people have no such word in their language.

Pre-9/11, if I ever thought about Islam, which I didn’t, I would have assumed that Allah is simply the Arabic word for God, like Dios (Spanish), Dieu (French), Gott (German), Dio (Italian), Deus (Portuguese), God (Dutch), and other words in alphabets I can’t read. But no.

Do Muslims think every other reference to God is not to the God but to their very own proprietary deity, though the Arabic word is pre-Islamic? There are those who think Allah is really Ba’al. Do Muslims think there is more than one Supreme Being, with different names? The theology is not clear to me, but it reminds me of the old joke that God is, of course, an Englishman, and not only that, an English gentleman. Or, if the (English) King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.

Playing for the Other Team

Also in the news is Satan, who is, surprisingly, a Czech hockey player. Miroslav Satan is a handsome devil; he’s married and has a little Satan Junior.

Frankly, I’m Puzzled

It seems to me that word puzzle books contain more typos than they used to, and sometimes the word definitions are sloppy, such as making “peace” a clue for “neutrality”.

Along the same lines, when a young Grammy-nominated trio called Lady Antebellum sang the National Anthem at the Sugar Bowl the other day, one of the young men sang “Oh say can you see though the dawn’s early light” instead of “through” although it should be “by”. Can he have a clear idea of what the words actually mean?

Once I worked briefly as a freelance puzzle magazine proofreader, because I often work puzzles while I watch TV and I figured I’d make a few bucks doing something I do anyway. But proofreading needs more concentration. I ended up making about $2 an hour and decided that even if I developed more speed, I might not get up to minimum wage, plus I had to meet the deadlines. So though I’m pretty good at solving the puzzles, I gave it up.

The poor economy must be reducing proofreaders and proofreading hours, and I can’t help thinking that the very youngest college grads who might take this job for a while aren’t literate enough to do a good enough job. But what about the puzzle makers? Who are they? I always think of them as old (that is, older than me). I can accept the typos but not neutrality as peace.

The Education Front: Science Is for White People

The Berkeley school district may eliminate science labs and teachers because mostly white students are in the classes and do well in them. Who are the racists here? I’m forming a posse to make sure George Washington Carver is turning over in his grave. We’ll charter a bus to go to Tuskegee Institute, where he’s buried. I worked there for a few months, a long time ago and a long story ago.


Interesting article in the NY Times language column on why we have inchoate but not choat, insult but not sult, and so on. It’s because the prefix “in” of course does not always make a word into a negative. It has another meaning, to wit, in. People are tempted to drop the prefix, but you shouldn’t do it unless you’re joking, as is Allan Weiss in “The Domitable Knight”. (I don’t know if he wrote it or just copied it.) Some time ago I included a similar little story of false coinages in PO but can’t find it now (see Stupid Cheap below).

Low Lives

Somewhere I read “low lives” referring to bad people. It should have been “low lifes” even though ordinarily the plural of life is lives. In this case, “low life” is a special idiom that needs to be heard and seen as a whole, and shouldn’t follow the usual grammar rule. gives both forms but lowlifes, as a single word, is first. However, even the sound of “low life” is weakened when you exchange the hissy sound of F for the soft V sound.

Word Count

The Global Language Monitor reports that the most-used word in 2009 was Twitter. Other trendy words make up their top ten. They have an algorithm for figuring this out, which possibly produces a word from a predetermined list. Clearly Twitter can’t be the most commonly used word in English, which is probably “the” or “a” or something like that. And I doubt if it’s the most commonly used noun in conversation, or even in print, even discounting the function words. GLM must be compiling lists of words that the media like to latch on to.

Blue Moon

I missed the New Year’s Eve blue moon. As you may know, a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. It doesn’t happen often, especially on New Year’s Eve.

Smash Mouth

I would have thought that “smash mouth” would be a joking reference to kissing. But no. Smash mouth football is rough football. I’ve seen way too much football lately.

The correct pronunciation of "Appalachia" is West Virginia

… but “I know the correct pronunciation of Appalachian” is a Facebook page. They say the correct pronunciation is AppaLATCHan, not AppaLAYchun. However, gives LAY as the first pronunciation and LATCH as the second. Wikipedia says (with phonetic symbols omitted):

While exploring inland along the northern coast of Florida in 1528, the members of the Narváez expedition, including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca [“cow head”], found a Native American village near present-day Tallahassee, Florida whose name they transcribed as Apalchen or Apalachen. … Now spelled "Appalachian", it is the fourth oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S. .. [In the north] the cultural region of Appalachia is pronounced … with a third syllable like "lay". In southern U.S. dialects, … the cultural region of Appalachia is pronounced … with a third syllable like the "la" in "latch". This pronunciation is favored in the "core" region in central and southern parts of the Appalachian range. The occasional use of the "sh" sound for the "ch" in the last syllable in northern dialects was popularized by Appalachian Trail organizations in New England in the early 20th century.

My family was from Appalachia and I never heard any of them use the word. They said, “I’m from West Virginia.” You wouldn’t expect someone from Denver to say “I’m from the Rockies” or someone from Hot Springs to say “I’m Ozarkian”.

Wiki Star

PO stalwart Dave DaBee (David DeBronkart to his other friends) is on Wikipedia. Check out the wonderful work he’s doing on behalf of patient participatory medicine.

Stupid Cheap

Our computer should come back from the shop today, we hope with some of the files still intact, years of work. The computer guy told us two or three times that he backs up everything before working on a computer, but he didn’t, and he screwed it up further while he fixed the original problem, then wanted to charge more money for partially restoring our files. Fred changed his mind about that.

We had backed up files at one time and another using Mozy and Norton 360. Mozy says I cancelled my account in October, which I didn’t and had no reason to do since it was a free service. Norton (Symantec), instead of answering a query, automatically renewed the service subscription. Haven’t heard back from them yet otherwise.

I bought a flash drive for the laptop and we’ll probably buy a backup hard drive for the desktop, which is what the low life computer guy calls “stupid cheap”: it’s cheap and it’s stupidly simple, but it works. I’m advising all of you to back up in more than one way. We’ve just experienced three different kinds of backup failure at the same time.

The Weekly Gizzard: Moi on

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

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Besides the political motivations for doing so, treating jihadists like individual criminals is understandable only...

We the People, not We the Perfect, and definitely not We the Media

Friday, January 1, 2010

The announcer for today's Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena wound up the Tuskegee Airmen float entry by...

Have an Independent and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

As the Cincinnati Independent Examiner, I wish you all a Happy and Independent New Year, no matter who you vote...

Restavek: Help child slaves in Haiti in the New Year

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cincinnati is home to the Restavek Foundation, started by Jean Robert Cadet, who was once a child slave in Haiti....



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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. 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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