Thursday, November 18, 2010

Parvum Opus 379: Prepostrophes

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere



Shai Hasse sent this:

“Often times you have a short window to peak the interest of a perspective employer, so you must seize that moment. Come learn the art of the 30-second elevator speech at this session from Professor Zagaiski.”

…the above paragraph is excerpted from an email touting the agenda for a weekly professional networking group…think I'll pass............

To be fair, Professor Zagaiski is teaching fast talk, not spelling, which takes slow study.


Mike Sykes wrote:

On the origins of Mrs. and Ms:

…at least in UK, "Hey Mrs", usually spelt as "Hey missus" would not be considered very respectful. Problem is, there's no satisfactory way of hailing a respectable woman/lady of unknown name. Madam sounds like an rather olde-worlde shopkeeper, Ma'am sounds like addressing royalty. We lack the French convenience of Madame (and, of course, Monsieur, or M'sieu).

Traditionally one wouldn’t hail a respectable unknown woman, but realistically it must be done from time to time, as when shopping, eating at a restaurant, or climbing out of a car wreck. (The last time I was in a wreck I restrained myself from speaking at all to the woman in the other car because I knew no good could come of it, and no polite titles would have come to mind. I let the police speak to her.)

By the way, it must be true that in England you don’t put a period after an abbreviation such as “Mrs”, but we do in the U.S., the idea being that over there the period represents absent letters, which in this instance only occur in the middle of the word.

On pedagogical despair:

It'll be a significant step forward when there is a consensus on what is "proper" English! For now, just look at the last few lines of this, noting the date.

Here Mike added this link.

On unobtanium:

And another clever coinage heard on the Dennis Miller radio program from a movie producer: “They moved to the left coast looking for unobtanium.”

Don't remember when I first heard (or saw) it, but it goes back a while, see here.

I had never heard it before.

On “timely” as an adverb:

I tend to share your feeling, yet OED has a separate entry for timely as adverb, quoting examples from Shakespeare and before.

OK, but it doesn’t sound natural or correct now.

On thanks:

Not to mention "Thank you for observing all safety precautions."


On may and might:

By the way, I need to say a few more words about may and might, which also irritated Mike mightily, as in: "...he died last January, and this newly approved drug may have prevented his death." Simply, mightis the past tense of may and should have been used in this case, but that can easily be forgotten because might can also be used for the present or future: “I might go to the game.” Some people have the idea that might is less definite in indicating a possibility than may, but that’s pretty vague and is not a rule (“I may” go vs. “I might go”—can you spot the difference?). May of course also indicates permission (and here we get into the difference between may and can, but that’s not our topic), but it’s also possible to use might for permission: “Might I have the last doughnut?” However, that sounds to me more like a British usage.

On apostrophes and prepostrophes:

But reams have been written on apostrophes, and many more or less normal usages are unexplained. "Brutus' dagger", "James's computer", the "Sykeses' get together".

How about calling all of us who write and speak on apostrophes, “apostrophers”? Here’s more from two other great apostrophers:

Here's my take on house signs, from Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense:

This brings us to those names we see in front of houses and on mailboxes everywhere—“The Smith’s, “The Gump’s,” and even (sigh) “The Jone’s.” These are distressing signs of our times. Which Smith, we ask, and who, pray tell, is Jone? Here we have an atrocity of both case and number in one felonious swoop.

Who lives in the house? The Smiths. The Gumps. The Joneses. That’s what the signs should say. It’s really nobody else’s business whether the Smiths, the Gumps, and the Joneses own their domiciles. All we need know is that the Smiths, the Gumps, and the Joneses live there. If you must announce possession, place the apostrophe after the plural names—“The Smiths’,” “The Gumps’,” “The Joneses’.” Your attention to this matter will strike a blow against a nationwide conspiracy of signmakers and junior high school shop teachers dedicating to spread of prepostrophes throughout our land.


Bill Roberts said, “We should be permitted to beat the living dogdirt out of anyone who confuses accept and except.” Permission granted.


Joe Clarke sent a link to the original resolution about Ebonics as a substitute for the teaching of standard English in Oakland, California schools. Perhaps the most outrageous statement in that document is:

…these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically-based and not a dialect of English.

What other language in the world would be described as “genetically based”? If black people do not learn standard grammar, does this mean they not only speak a particular patois but also are geneticallyincapable of learning another language or dialect—after living in this country for three or four centuries? The whole point of this bogus scholarship and educational directive was to oil around the fact that black students in Oakland were getting bad grades. Were they also considered genetically predisposed to figure numbers differently, or not at all? I used to tell my students that learning standard English is a survival skill, and to say that ordinary students (i.e. not mentally retarded) cannot learn what most people learn is at best blindly stupid and at worst intentionally destructive.


Medical language is often unintelligible to the lay person, of course, but there’s a trend in advertising to make lay people (i.e. customers) feel like they’re in on scientific language. It used to be that advertisers and drug makers made up sciency-sounding names for products, often ending in –ex or sounding like one of the –stan countries. Now I’ve noticed a trend toward rewording ordinary language into other ordinary language. For instance:

A heavy period is a medical condition called “heavy monthly bleeding”.

Low testosterone, called Low T.

Instead of translating a highly scientific, usually Latinate, term into plain English, a phrase in plain English is translated into an almost identical phrase in plain English, although I’ve never heard anyone, medical professional or otherwise, use the term “low T” for hypogonadism. Heavy bleeding is called menorrhagia.

The next phase in advertising will be to have the narrator say something like “heavy bleeding” or “low T” and have the actor who plays the drug consumer just grunt and point to the groinal area.


· On the radio on Veterans Day/Armistice Day: “I’m trying to play as much military music as I can garner.” He should have said “as I can muster.” Garner is about gathering and storing (as grain). Muster can mean gathering and showing the troops. It would have been a better choice just for that reason, but in any case, the DJ is presenting something, not collecting.

· The giant Wal-Mart has sections for Hispanic food and Latino food. What’s the difference? Is there any reason Tex-Mex, for instance, would be more or less Latin-based or Spanish than Cuban?

· From somewhere: “Everything you need to create quick, colorful, creative projects.” I’ve complained before about “creative” used to describe the creation rather than the creator, but in this case, the redundancy is idiotic.

· From somewhere: something “plays a major factor”. This error comes from not attending to the meaning of words, and mixing up cliches. Someone or something plays a role, or is a factor.



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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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