Thursday, April 8, 2010

Parvum Opus 366: Alives, Revivals, Survivals, and Arrivals

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere



Something is wrong with one of my Yahoo mail accounts, and for now (maybe forever) I will be using this e-mail address: If you sent me something in the last week and I didn’t answer, please re-send it.

This and That

· Overheard somewhere:

The smell of coffee resonates throughout the whole house.

I like my coffee the way I like my men: loud.

· One episode of the TV show “Most Shocking” features:

Naked partner gets trampled by a bull; prostitutes do battle; police pursue college coeds streaking through city streets.

Other episodes are similar. The program is classified as Learning in the program guide.

· Japanese product label:

Spring! Flesh man and women bigin new life.

· From Improbable Research:

A Vancover bakery sign reads: Please be advised that our Bread Slicer is used for both Organic and Conventional items.

Apparently the bakery is trying to avoid lawsuits by people allergic to Conventional items. What happens if those people breathe the same air as Conventional people?

· Random bit of paper on my desk:

The preacher came by with his head heisted high.

Of course this is from “That Old Mountain Dew” but I was struck by the spelling (and pronunciation) of “hoisted”. No doubt it’s the same as “heist” meaning theft. There are any number of verses to this old song, but this one goes:

The preacher came by with his head heisted high

Said his wife had come down with the flu

And he thought that I ort

Just to give him a quart

Of that good ol’ mountain dew.

The version I learned at my mother’s knee goes, “The preacher came by with a gleam in his eye”. (You know what “ort” means, don’t you? And mountain dew, for that matter?)

· A Texas man calling in to the Dennis Miller program about secession, which the Texas state constitution permits, said:

We might could do better

I’ve written about this colloquialism before but seldom hear it in Cincinnati.

· Not sure where I found this:

The hypothalamus plays a major role in the regulation of basic biological drives relating to survival, including the so-called four Fs: fighting, fleeing, feeding, mating.

Sounds like a poorly thought-out eufemism.

Navigational Query

We’re all familiar with the expression, or its variations, “You have to give him a lot of latitude.” The question is, why not longitude? Would any sailors out there happen to know the answer?

Alives, Revivals, Survivals, and Arrivals

Mike Sykes wrote about the subjunctive:

A fascinating subject. As you know by now, the only source for which I have much regard is Fowler, that is to say the three editions of 1926, 1965 (revised by Ernest Gowers, also author of Plain Words) and 1996 (edited by R W Burchfield, also editor of the OED). The first starts with:

The word is very variously used in English grammar ... and distinguishes four types of use:

  • Alives, i.e. uses that are still in our natural form of speech. E.g. "Come what may", "If he were here now."
  • Revivals, i.e. antiquated uses revived for poetic effect or some other special purpose. E.g. "If ladies be but young and fair." *
  • Survivals, i.e. uses formerly natural but now falling into disuse. E.g. "Do not ring unless an answer be required."
  • Arrivals, i.e. incorrect uses due to growing unfamiliarity with the idiomatic uses of the mood. This has five subtypes.

In conclusion he says:

The conclusion is that writers who deal in Survival subjunctives run the risk, first, of making their matter dull, secondly, of being tempted into blunders themselves, thirdly, of injuring the language by encouraging others more ignorant than they to blunder habitually, & lastly, of having the proper dignity of style at which they aim mistaken by captious readers for pretentiousness.

I think that's beautifully put. Burchfield more or less rewrote the whole article, beginning:

The subjunctive mood is one of the great shifting sands of English grammar. He goes on to refer to the 156 pages on the subject in the "standard reference work on historical English syntax" by Vissar. He concludes his general comments with:

[I]t is seldom obligatory, and indeed is commonly (?usually) invisible because the notionally subjunctive and indicative forms are identical. **

Returning to your example, Burchfield points out that in such cases "a putative should + infinitive" is used. So if your interpretation is correct, the writer could have made it clearer by saying “I think it’s very important that everyone should like me.”

* Actually I don’t know whether this is a revival, survival, or something else, but it is not uncommon to hear something like “He be trippin’” among black Americans. I don’t know if this is supposed to indicate a subjunctive voice or mood, but it can hardly be because they’re not familiar with the indicative (“He is trippin’”). This is discussed as a characteristic of black speech but I don’t know that it’s completely explained. Maybe it is, as suggested, a holdover from an ancestral language.

** This is probably why people so often make mistakes with it.

  • “If I was rich” instead of “If I were rich”
  • “If you were rich” would be the same in the subjunctive and indicative (i.e. “You were rich before the crash”), so “If you was rich” will always sound subliterate, whereas “If he was rich” does not.


  • I was, if I were;
  • you were, if you were (indicative and subjunctive, singular and plural, always the same);
  • he was, if he were (also she, it, one);
  • we were, if we were, always the same;
  • they were, if they were, always the same.

You only have to remember the first and third persons singular subjunctive.

About Zed and the ELCC:

Any proposal to establish an ELCC [English Language Central Commission] would be laughed out of court. The Académie française is not an encouraging precedent. They feel patriotism requires them to invent new words rather than use those of others. It's not just that they don't like words such as rosbif and smoking, but they go inventing words such as logiciel. What they use for firmware, malware and so on I've no idea.

"Europeanized"? Think you'll beat us to it? Ha. I see little movement in either case. By the way, don't you all call "Z" Zee?

Yes, we do, but I felt like a zed last week.

The best April fool jokes I've even known were the Guardian's in 1977, and the BBC's report on the spaghetti harvest, way back in 1957.

I recall the spaghetti harvest, but the Guardian’s 1977 article on San Serriffe is new to me. It was about a little nation called San Serriffe consisting of two islands, the Caissa Superiore or Upper Caisse and the more southerly Caissa Inferiore or Lower Caisse. A must-read.


Daily Writing Tips has an article about a common misuse of the conditional (not to be confused with the subjunctive). Example:

“If you happen to be in the area, we will be at Meehan’s Ale House. So stop on by.”

The logic here is, we will be at Meehans’ [only] if you are in the area, which is unlikely; are they calling back and forth about this possibility? What is meant is, “If you happen to be in the area, remember that we will be at Meehans’” or “If you happen to be in the area, stop in Meehan’s because we will be there.”

This is kind of a lazy mistake, one that I have made.

The Weekly Gizzard: Moi on

Note: This short article got a lot more hits than anything I’ve written.

Women march for nudity in Portland

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

At first glance this seemed like a silly and pointless, no pun intended, demonstration: a couple of dozen women...
Keep Reading »



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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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