Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Parvum Opus 364: Pen of Plastic

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


Y-u M-y A-----y Be a W----r

Two people solved last week’s puzzle:

W--t g--s a----d the i------t c---s a----d F------k


What goes around the internet comes around Facebook.

I thought not capitalizing internet might throw some people off, but Pat Geiger and Dave deBronkart got it and chose to tell me about it. Dave said he didn’t really want another book to add to his stack but I talked him into it. Herb Hickman fooled around with “What goes around the idiots” and “What goes around the iconoclasts” because he said all our books are in Latin. I really need to clear out the bookshelves.

Pat received my extra copy of Postmodern Pooh by Frederick Crews. I’ve written about this book before, the brilliant sequel to the brilliant Pooh Perplex (1964). Crews satirized various schools of literary criticism extant in 1964, and 40 or so years later updated us on postmodernism, one of the tragedies of my one year of doctoral work. These books are essentials for every English major and for anyone who wants to understand the changes in the intellectual landscape in literary critique and in other fields such as sociology and history in the last few decades.

Dave received a book that’s too much fun to put on the bottom of his pile of necessary reading, The Ignobel Prizes, but now that I’ve sent the book off I don’t remember which volume it was. It doesn’t matter, it’s all good. The Ignobel Prizes are presented by Improbable Research every year for real and outstanding and silly accomplishments in science and literature. I attended one of the award ceremonies a few years ago at Harvard and I recommend it to everyone in the vicinity. Today, the home page for IR features a link to George Mason University’s Speech Accent Archive, with recording of various accents reading the same paragraph.

Pen of Iron

In the March 8, 2010 Wall Street Journal, Stephen Miller reviewed Pen of Iron: American Prose and The King James Bible by Robert Alter, which is about literary style, now generally ignored by the aforementioned postmodernists. Much of the great writing in America, and speech writing in the case of Abraham Lincoln, has been influenced by the KJV. If not a perfect translation, it is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of writing in English.

Alter notes that the average American used to be familiar with the language of the Bible, but people today are not. It is a great loss, not only to style, but to comprehension, since so many people don’t understand the allusions and metaphors common in everyday English that came from the KJV (and from Shakespeare too).

This week I also happened to hear a discussion on TV that explained one of the linguistic religious mysteries. Maybe you’ve heard some preachers, often fundamentalists or Southern ministers, say “believe on Jesus Christ.” This was always a puzzle since normally we say “believe in” something. But there’s a reason for it. The Bible has a passage in original Greek, pistuein eis, which is closer to “believe on” or “unto” which means something more like believing into something, in the sense that true belief means you are really inside the object/subject of belief. It made more sense when the Ph.D. scholar on TV explained it.

Twisted Cliches

· From the web:

I love Miss Manners like white loves rice, or umm rather.. oh well I don't know.

Did the writer run out of steam after only 15 words (not counting “umm”)?

· From someplace on TV that I don’t remember, possibly LA Ink, my current reality TV weakness (and no, I don’t have any tattoos yet):

It’s not rocket surgery.

This is likely a purposeful combining of “rocket science” and “brain surgery”. Cute.


Dave DaBee turned me on to Odiogo, a technology for translating a web page into a digitalized voice. I installed the link on the blog page where I post Parvum Opus ( and now you can listen to the weekly PO. It’s a little weird and more than a little imperfect, but it’s definitely functional and would be useful for someone with poor vision. You can also download it for podcast.

The voice is a man’s voice (which is more pleasing to me than a woman’s if it’s not me reading my own material). The intonation, the rises and falls within a sentence, usually sound natural. The voice rises just before a question mark. But it is automated so it can’t be perfect.

I listened to last week’s PO and it took about 9 or 10 minutes to get through the text, not counting the end matter which repeats every week, which might be another 10 minutes or so.

The beginning, with “W--t g--s a----d the i------t c---s a----d F------k”, is of course unintelligible, and I noticed “I’ve reed about cuts” instead of “I’ve read about cuts.”

The combination of the bad Russian writer plus the digitized voice makes for an interesting international SNAFU.

The loss of precision in a column about exactitude in language is acceptable until the technology is perfected, which may be never since some readings need a human mind. But most of the meaning can be gleaned by listening once, and with more, the audio Parvum Opus should be reasonably intelligible to most people.

Verbing It

The other day a neighbor who was repairing his front door said, “I’m hillbillying it.” I assume he meant something like jerryrigging (I know some of you say juryrigging), that is, kluging or doing a shoddy job. He’s the same guy who ingeniously tied an aerosol can horn device to his rearview mirror, presumably because his regular horn was broken. He is kind of a hillbilly who has a sense of humor about it, which is good because he doesn’t have the money to do everything up slick. He’s been chopping firewood all winter.


The 2010 Old Farmer’s Almanac has a good article about manure with an etymology of the word (page 175). It actually comes from the same root as “maneuver” (manuoperare in Latin). It’s all about manual labor.

Interesting legal note from

MANURE, Dung. When collected in a heap, it is considered as personal property, but, when spread, it becomes a part of the land and acquires the character of real estate. Alleyn, 31; 2 Ired. R. 326.

The online version has three quiz questions on the home page:

· In the Bible there is a reference to shields and bucklers. What are bucklers? -

· What word is that which by having a single letter transposed becomes its own opposite? - [Actually two letters will be transposed or switched with each other. You could look at it either way.]

· Where did the phrase "round robin" come from when referring to a letter? -

No prizes this time since the answers are right there. Would anybody like more quizzes?

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is also available for podcast.


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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 2010. 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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