Thursday, April 15, 2010

Parvum Opus 367: A Little Latitude, A Little Attitude

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


A Little Latitude, A Little Attitude

John McCarthy has an explanation of why we say “give him some latitude” (meaning to give someone some slack, some scope, some room, some space, let him be):

One degree of latitude is a long way, but one degree of longitude is vanishingly small near the poles.

You can see this on a globe. If you start at the North Pole and move south through the latitudes, they are separate by equal degree measurements. But because we measure longitude at the poles, all the imaginary longitudinal lines converge at the poles so you could step on all of them at the same time (just like you can stand in four states at Four Corners Monument where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet; not much latitude or longitude at that point). At the equator, the lines of latitude are spread apart to their maximum. So if you give someone latitude, you always give him more room whereas giving someone longitude depends on where you are.

I used to have trouble remembering which was longitude and which was latitude, because the lines of longitude go up and down but the measurements between them go around the globe, while the lines of latitude go sideways (laterally) but the measurements between them go north and south. Remember that the words refer to the imaginary lines of measurement.

Allow me to gracefully segue into a dissertation on the use of the universal “him” above. I did not write “give her some slack” or “give them some slack” or “give one some slack”. I reverted to the ancient generic sense of “him”. Theodore Dalrymple writes about this in “Feminist censorship and language reform”. He says he himself avoids using “mankind” and similar words, because he’s noticed that editors may be revising the word in manuscripts to “humankind” or whatever they want without asking the authors. This is a bad practice. A writer should be queried about an editorial change of this sort. An editor may correct spelling or punctuation without asking, and even then, only with care. But larger matters of style, which in this case are also matters of content, should be discussed.

Two other matters of politically correct language leapt off on my desktop this week.

A news story:

Blasphemy laws not enough, Pakistan also using alcohol laws to persecute Christians

One of the many defects inherent in Sharia, aside from those enshrined in the letter of the law, is how readily it lends itself to further exploitation and abuse, particularly of those already marginalized under its sway.

As you probably know, Islam prohibits drinking alcohol, and although Muslims might do it anyway, which usually happens with this kind of law, it’s a convenient stick with which to beat Christians in Muslim countries, where Christians are indeed “marginalized” as prescribed by sharia law. My issue is with the word “marginalized” which we hear constantly applied to people or groups of people who are not at the top of whatever heap you care to name. Let’s look at the word “margin”. You can see margins at the edge of this screen and of every printed page. Margins are necessary to make reading easier. In some cases, they may contain useful information such as page numbers and footnotes. It’s a weak metaphor for “poor” or “not powerful”. But furthermore, throughout the entire history of the entire world, most people are not at the top of the heap. Pure physics prevents it. Most people are not powerful. If everyone had power, the world would be crazier than it is. And absolutely equal distribution of cash or goods could never be a stable condition, because people do not envy only quantity, they envy quality or even simpler distinguishers. For instance, imagine that everyone in the world has a 2010 Hummer, but they have different colors. Someone with a taxicab-yellow Hummer might want a silver one. So wouldn’t it be a simple matter for them to trade vehicles, assuming the other person would accept the yellow one? No, because some people would want another car only because another person had it, not really caring about the color; and some people would want two cars, or three; and some would want to own and distribute all the cars. Because with a lot of people, it’s about power, not about reality.

The third censorship issue is just plain crazy. Burger King ran an ad where the King goes on a rampage because of the insanely low burger prices, sort of like the Crazy Ed type of car lot ads. Some people and mental health organization types find this deeply offensive to the emotionally, mentally, and psychically challenged. Some years ago there were people objecting to the Ernest T. Bass character on the old Andy Griffith comedy show. Ernest was definitely not quite right in the head, bless his heart, but he was part of his community, though the community drew a line at dangerously unacceptable behavior. The clip above highlights typical Ernest T. behavior and also shows how ordinary people talk about people who are fat or homely. You don’t of course, but some people do. They talk about people and it’s not always flattering. I’ll cop to a touch of insanity myself. Call me crazy.

Gleams and Tears

Charlie Moyer quotes “The preacher came by with a tear in his eye” instead of a gleam in his eye, which was what I remembered. “That Old Mountain Dew” is the kind of song that can be varied and added to indefinitely. I replied, “I guess it depends on the preacher” and Charlie wrote, “Or how much Mountain Dew you do, he do.”

Pompatus Explained

I’ve always loved Steve Miller, the joker/smoker/midnight toker. Saw him in concert in Akron long time ago. Perhaps you too have been pondering the pompatus of love at midnight for decades. Someone found the source and shared it in a Facebook thread. An R&B singer named Vernon Jones, who sang with the Medallions in 1954, liked to make up words, and Miller may have morphed “pulpitudes” from the song “The Letter” into “pompatus”.

A Small Problem Solved

Here’s a solution to a little problem that many of you probably already know, but it could be one of those simple things that you haven’t discovered yet and no one ever bothered to explain.

As tedious as it is to read at length on a computer screen, reading online can be even more difficult because of its formatting, or lack of it, when the lines stretch all the way across the screen, making text harder to follow. This, of course, is why newspapers and magazines, with pages usually bigger than book pages, are laid out in columns instead of single blocks of text. It’s easier and faster to read.

The online problem is easily fixed, however. If you click on the little box at the upper right-hand corner of your screen – not the X that closes the window and not the minus sign that sends it to the foot of the screen, but the single or double boxes in a box – it may not look like your screen has changed, but it has.

If there’s a single box in the box between the X and the minus, the window will grow to its maximum size if you click on it. If there’s a double box in a box and you click on it, it will change to a single box in the box. The window may or may not change sizes too at this point, but whether or not it does, if you move your cursor to any corner of the window, the cursor will change to a double-headed diagonal arrow. When you see it, hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor to move the corner of the box up, down, sideways, or diagonally. You will be able to change the size and proportions of the window. A double-headed arrow cursor at the right or left of the window will let you make the window wider or narrower, and the same cursor at bottom or top lets you make the window taller or shorter.

If you make the window narrower, in most cases the paragraphs will become narrower and the lines will wrap or break more often, making it easier to follow along the shorter lines. When you’re done reading, you can easily reverse the process by clicking on the box within a box again to go back to the full-size window. This method also works when you’re reading or writing in Word.

In some cases, the paragraphs will be chopped off instead of re-wrapping with new line breaks. This has to do with poor formatting and there’s not much you can do about that, other than try to slide the screen left or right.

The Weekly Gizzard: Moi on

Don't believe everything you see at Tea Parties

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thousands are expected at today's Tax Day Tea Party in Cincinnati, along with special speaker Sean Hannity....


I found out what my e-mail problem is, and my old mail is still there, but so is the problem. However, the address still works.



I’m publishing for the Kindle digital reader with Amazon and now also on for download to computer and for printing. Most of these titles are available in both locations. Search for Rhonda Keith on Kindle store and

* The Man from Scratch is about cloning, escort services, murder, and restaurants in Akron, Ohio, featuring Roxy Barbarino, writer for Adventuress Magazine. Novel.

* A Walk Around Stonehaven is a travel article on my trip to Scotland. Short article with photos. ( only.)

* The Wish Book is fantasy-suspense-romance featuring the old Sears Roebuck catalogues. Novella.

* Carl Kriegbaum Sleeps with the Corn is about a young gambler who finds himself upright in a cornfield in Kansas with his feet encased in a tub of concrete; how would you get out of a spot like that? Short story.

* Still Ridge is about a young woman who moves from Boston to Appalachia and finds there are two kinds of moonshine, the good kind and the kind that can kill you. Short story.

* Whither Spooning? asks whether synchronized spooning can be admitted to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Humorous sports article.

* Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Cats: One woman's tale of menopause, in which I learn that the body is predictive; I perceive that I am like my cat; and I find love. Autobiographical essay.

* Parvum Opus Volume I. The first year (December 2002 through 2003). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get PO’ed. Collection of columns.

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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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