Saturday, December 31, 2011

Parvum Opus 393: Conascend with Me

It’s not that the world has run out of material for Parvum Opus to kvetch about. Maybe next year I’ll get back to a more frequent schedule. This year I’ve worked on other things.
            When I was a little kid I had an unformulated desire to publish. I didn’t write much to speak of when I was a child, outside of school, but I remember wanting to make a book out of a piece of cardboard. I think I copied the alphabet on it. I wasn’t precocious enough to really make a book, though. But eventually I began to write, and now I can publish too, thanks to new technology. I write, edit, and design the covers; I have a new publishing name, Who Art, and designed the Who Art logo too. You might say I’m postcocious. If I were an actor I guess I’d want to direct.
            So now I’m putting my writing (much of which I already published as e-books) onto real paper. Then I will continue with the epistolary biography of my late high school Spanish teacher, Ellen Rowe (who contributed a bit to the early Parvum Opus columns), as well as other new writing projects.

·         I’ve just published the first year of collected Parvum Opus columns in paperback, now online at CreateSpace and also on Amazon.
·         Also now in paperback is The Wish Book, a bit of brain candy, lots of fun (CreateSpace and Amazon). I used this verse by Yeats from The Circus Animals’ Desertion as the coda to the novella:
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
·         The Man from Scratch will be available in a few days on CreateSpace, and on Amazon within a week or two after that. It’s a murder mystery about cloning and the ethics of genetic engineering. Bitterly humorous but not as sweet as The Wish Book (and not suitable for kids).
·         When Sonny Gets Blue is an audio book, the first volume of an autobiography by my friend Howard Sonny Robertson (CreateSpace and Amazon). I produced it but it’s entirely Sonny’s voice. Fascinating.

            CreateSpace is an excellent Amazon affiliate for DIY publishing and distributing books, CDs, and videos. You do everything online, for nothing or next to nothing, and you end up with a real book. I learned about CreateSpace from reader Dave DeBronkart, who has published two books, also as both Kindle books and paperbacks: 

Thanx and a tip of the Keith Stephens hat to Dave DaBee.

In case you weren’t sure, now we know that it’s the vowels, at least in advertising. Stanford linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky says so. All along I thought it was the consonants. Professor Jurafsky has a blog on the language of food. I think that boy is hungry. Somebody throw him a turkey leg.

(Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so right now I’ll interrupt my writing for some early festive sipping:  St. Germain liqueur. Good sprinkled on corned beef too, by the way.)

Years ago I was an associate editor for a large Midwestern university, in the publications department, which was next door to the news department, all of which was an arm of the public relations office responsible for fund-raising. One day a hard-hitting journalism student hit me hard with this question:  What if the university needed money for something? Would we cover it up, or write about it, he probed shrewdly. I explained that our office was all about asking for money, all the time, for everything.
            He was probably a classmate of the girl who wrote in the school paper that she was disappointed by London. She’d just come back from her first visit, and asked plaintively, Where were the tickertape parades? A British professor responded that it’s New York, not London, that is noted for tickertape parades. Even New York doesn’t have them every day. Too bad she couldn’t find some other way to amuse herself in London.

I have other stories from that editorial job that will appear in a future novel. I just add in the murders.

Or, Whatever happened to the Jutes?
The Open University has a clever video cartoon about the history of the English language, all told in only 11:21 minutes.
The Open University is European, and not all cartoons.

Dave DaBee tipped me to the Bad Sex Writing Award, sponsored by the Literary Review. Actually I’d mentioned this award in 2009 in PO 350.
            The 2010 winner, whose name doesn’t deserve a mention but you can find it along with his book title on the web site, wrote this:

Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.

I suggest to any ladies and gentlemen out there contemplating sex for the first time with someone that you ask the object of your speculation to give you an erotic writing sample first (along with the blood test).

Why do we have the word “condescending” but not “conascending”? If you condescend, you deign to go down to someone else’s level. But don’t we attempt to go up to a higher level at times?
            I think we should try introducing this new coinage as a group Parvum Opus project. “We will conascend to add to the English vocabulary.”

Why do we have the word “suburbia” but not “urbia”? “Suburbia” is a bit different from “the suburbs” which simply refers to the communities that surround a city, the small towns and residential areas. But “suburbia” usually implies a state of mind and a way of life, and is often derogatory. People who sneer “suburbia” usually grew up there and think they became cool when they left.
            So why not “urbia” as a companion word? Its meaning would depend on who uses it. I leave that to you — “You know the type, he lives in urbia.” Send your definitions, and we’ll try to introduce that word too.

… but not always logical.
            On a reality TV show about people who get done in by their own dangerous exotic pets, the narrator said:  “James had a fascination for snakes.” This means that the snakes were fascinated by him. It should have been, “James had a fascination with snakes.” (He was fascinated by them.)
            Now it’s true that the preposition “for” seems ambiguous here since it can be used with different meaning in other formations, e.g., “James had a weakness for snakes.” (He was a sucker for their cold little eyes.) But that doesn’t matter. The rule, and the idiom, are what they are. Yes, I understood the meaning, but my attention shouldn’t have been distracted by the misuse of “for” in this instance.

I don’t know when the expression “man up” came into use. It means, of course, to act like a man, do your duty, show courage, etc. Same as “cowboy up”. I recently heard “rooster up” — didn’t note the context, but it must be more like trying to be aggressively dominant, not quite the same as to cowboy up.

A clumber is a type of field spaniel that hunts silently. Neat, huh?

As I re-read my books in preparation for paperbook publication, I find errors no matter how many times I’ve read them before. Here I reprint a poem I wrote at the end of 2003 about my mistakes — slightly edited.

As Lewis Carroll wrote in preface to “Hiawatha’s Photographing”:
“In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly practiced writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre of ‘The Song of Hiawatha’.”

Thus, my end-of-the-year meditation on doing wrong when I know what’s right:

The Unattainability of Impeccability, or

I’m Not Bothering to Make A New Year’s Resolution This Year

In the bowels of my computer
Or perhaps my nether brain cells
Lives a typographic gremlin
Who cares not that I’m a speller —
Disregards my grammar knowledge —
Laughs to think that I’m a writer
(Let alone pretend to edit) —
And to keep from overheating
I must give my thoughts expression,
And attempt perfect composure
When I lay them on the line.

So the gremlin jerks my fingers,
Struts and frets upon my keyboard,
Clouds with floaters my right eyeball,
Even when I type correctly,
Read and proofread till I cannot
Find and fix another error:
Everything looks just as it should be
But it’s all a sad delusion.

“Tart” is “taart,” not even English.
Verbs do not agree with subjects.
Words drop out and strange ones enter.
Print does not match with my brain waves.
GIGO — input leads to output —
Garbage in means garbage out — does
Not explain the situation
(Though perhaps it’s instant karma
As I point my ink-stained fingers
At others' harmless flubs and glitches).

Like the ancient carpet weavers
Of the fabled looms of Turkey,
Should I thread a flower in backwards,
Use red yarn instead of purple,
Purposely distort the pattern,
So Allah will not be offended
By presumption of perfection?

I don’t need to fool my gremlin
By pretending to be flawless.
No god could ever be affronted
By my warp and woof of language —
Vocabulary, syntax, spelling —
All are ways and means to blunder.
Any god who’s worth a prayer
Won’t find hubris in these pages,
Only lots of gag material.
So I’m assigned a lesser spirit —
Just a lowly typing demon
Copyedits all my writing.

By R. Keith, 2003

Happy New Year, and may all your typos be harmless, unlike the one that said “Love me not” instead of “Love me now”.
~ From Rhonda and Fred, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Parvum Opus 392: Real-Word Experience

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


Rich Lederer agrees about short- and long-lived:

In brief, all major dictionaries cleave to your argument for sounding the i in short-lived and long-lived as a long i. These compounds mean "short/long of life." It should be noted, though, that the Brits prefer the short i in these words.

We both beg to differ with the Brits.

He also wrote:

Most folks who have seen The Help agree that the film is destined to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But with all the care lavished upon the writing and filming of The Help, in slithers the following prepostrophe: 
            Skeeter Phelan, the film's protagonist and writer of the book The Help, is typing up a notice for the Junior League's newsletter. The camera homes in on the text, which includes: "Come to the Holbrook's to drop off old coats," which she changes to "old commodes" in order to befoul Hilly's front yard.
             You'd think that Skeeter — or at least the writers of the screenplay — would know that Holbrook's should be Holbrooks'. 

(By the way, I know someone who did put an old commode in her yard, in hopes of lowering the sale price of the house she lived in when it went up for sheriff’s auction, because she wanted to buy it cheap. It’s a long story.)


Dave DaBee posted this reference to a newly invented type font called Dyslexie, designed by Christian Boer of the Netherlands, that is supposed to be easier for dislexics to read. Boer, himself dyslexic, designed the letter shapes to be less confusing.

One of Dave’s Facebook friends, Victoria Haliburton, disagrees. She works with dislexics. I include most of her comments — unedited (she probably wrote in a hurry) — because she is as amusing as she is opinionated (but presumably not dyslexic herself).

Sorry to disappoint you and everyone who wants a miracle cure, but this guyis wrong in so many directions that it is hard to know where to start. First, as the article mentions -- and then ignores -- dyslexia is NOT a vision problem. Every few years somebody comes up with a new snake oil guaranteed to cure botts, glanders, and the hives, shows positive results from their own testing -- and then disappears as mysteriously as they appeared. …. since it is NOT a vision problem, playing around with visual efforts is on the level of curing a cold by sacrificing a chicken -- irrelevant, but the cold gets better in seen days anyway so you can prve the cure . . .. In fact dyslexia can be treated and in many cases "cured" (ie the student looks and acts and tests well within the normal range, although perhaps with a few quirks). The statement in the article "there is no cure" is dead wrong. The treatment has been well-known and used for over a century -- my grandmother could have told you -- and has passed every *scientific* test thrown at it over the last sixty years. read the NIH study on Teaching Children to Read, 1999 (not the hysterical attacks on it since, but the actual study). Be forewarned: you are used to reading medical studie where there is a standard of proof; education so-called "studies" have no such standard and are 90 percent laughable. Anyway, the treatment that works, and works with a ery high success rate, is traing not in vision but in hearing - phonetic discrimination etc. The reason for the high rate of dyslexia and "dyslexia" (much higher) in English is twofold -- the problem of partially inconsistent (only 15 percent by the way) sound-symbol correspondence, and the much uch worse probelm of poorly-prepared teachers who are taught things that just ain't so and who try to teach their students by guess, hope, and pray rather than actual reading instruction.

As far as fonts, by the way, it has been found that one of the *easiest* to read is a serif font, Century Schoolbook -- which was designed as an easy-reading font for children's texts by peple without scientific credentials but wth a lot of real-word experience. The basic rules for font design and calligraphy, which include consistent slant (unlike this new font) and a minimum of additional frills (he's good here) and a balance of open white space and dark letter (he's right here about openness) are designed to maximize readability. Uneven slopes give the reader a headache; I know, I read juior-high kids' papers. They slow you down, quite badly if you are a fast reader.


Dave also sent an article from the Boston Globe by Christopher Muther, “Literally the most misused word”. Is it literally a hopeless case?

Literally is used, incorrectly, as an intensifier, in the grand tradition of exaggeration that is so American. How many things are really awesome, after all? Is your yes always absolutely a yes?

Proposing substitutes for literally may be useless. For instance, the article quotes Ben Zimmer of the Visual Thesaurus and, on Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas saying, “This is literally a dream come true” when they won the Stanley Cup. Zimmer suggests substituting something like “unquestionably a dream come true”, but is that really any better? It depends on what you mean by “dream”. Possibly Thomas didn’t actually (really truly) dream in the night about the Stanley Cup, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he did, but he could have literally had a dream in the sense of a strong imaginative desire for a future outcome.

Another Bruin, Andrew Ference, said, “I can’t wrap my mind around how many people were there. I literally can’t wrap my head around it.” Well, that’s half true. He couldn’t wrap his head (a physical object) around a concept. But maybe he could wrap his mind (a more abstract sort of thing, really a though) around an idea.

In any case, if literally is used incorrectly more than not, what will take its place?


Another intrusion of political correctness into art commentary distorts the intention of a 19th-century painting by George Inness, March of the Crusaders, which depicts knights traveling through the Italian countryside. On the linked page here, the comment points out the reference to death in the picture of the noble procession, but in a local Inness exhibition, a curator was compelled to write apologetically that “At this time, many saw the Crusaders as heroes.” This disparagement of the Crusaders has developed largely since the recent unpleasantness, of course, and makes sense if you’d prefer to be living under sharia law.

Lest we forget, the phrase “political correctness” came from Trotsky, and was adopted by the American Communist Party, which would announce that its members had to back certain policies because they were politically correct (i.e. practical) even if they were wrong, or statements even if they were false; the party line shifted often. Unlike the Bolsheviks, we probably won’t be imprisoned or killed for being un-PC, though that could change, but how comfortable would you be in speaking positively about the intrepid knights of the Crusades at your next social get-together?


I am now republishing my e-books in paperback under my new publishing label, Who Art. The first of these is now available on Amazon, The Wish Book, an amusing light read about the old Sears catalogs, a clandestine midnight burial, and a bit of romance. Paper is so much more satisfying than pixels.

The first volume of Sonny Robertson’s audio autobiography, When Sonny Gets Blue, is also on Amazon now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Parvum Opus 391: Near Language Experience

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere

Then and Now, There and Here
Re-reading Agatha Christie, I ran across this Postern of Fate (1973).

If I’d been a nice ordinary child of nowadays I wouldn’t have learned to read so easily when I was young. Children nowadays who are four, or five, or six, don’t seem to be able to read and quite a lot of them don’t seem to be able to read when they get to ten or eleven. I can’t think why it was so easy for all of us. We could all read…. I don’t mean we could all spell very well, but we could read anything we wanted to . I don’t know how we learnt. Asking people, I suppose. Things about posters and Carter’s Little Liver Pills. We used to read all about them in the fields when trains got near London. It was very exciting.

            She was writing about England, of course.
            Postern of Fate is not one of Christie’s best. In 1973 she was 83 years old. Her style became too discursive for a tight mystery, though she hadn’t totally lost her ability to plot. But her observation indicates that most children can learn when they’re expected to, and if they want to, and if vocabulary, for instance, is not purposely dumbed down. Of course reading might be more exciting for someone who’s not drowned in TV all the time.
            More recently, circulating the web is an eighth grade exam from a school in Salina, Kansas, much more difficult than what students face today. The myth-busting web site Snopes does not say it’s not a real exam (Snopes also adds a teacher’s exam from Zanesville, Ohio, in the 1870s) but that, uh…. Well, you read it. Snopes doesn’t argue the authenticity of the exams; my guess is that the Snopes writers are defending their own educations, which were undoubtedly less rigorous than those of the 19th century.
            Once again I refer you to the McGuffey Readers, which my parents might well have used when they attended one-room schools back in the mountains. Compare with today’s elementary school readers. You can find the McGuffey texts online. Here’s an example of a reading lesson from the primer, the book before Book One.

One day Nat and I sat on the high hill by the sea, where the tall lighthouse stands. We could look far out, and could see the ships at sea. As we sat there, we saw a man near by, with some sheep and lambs. The man had a pipe in his mouth. He sat with us, and let the sheep eat the grass. What fun it is to see lambs play! It made us laugh to see them. The man said that once, when the sheep and lambs were out in the snow, an old wolf took one of the lambs, and ran off with it. I think that men should watch their sheep, so that a wolf can not catch them.

The sentences are longer than six words and some of the words are longer than six letters. Today, of course, books would have few rural settings, and no one would be allowed to smoke a pipe. Probably a wolf would not be allowed to steal a lamb either. (Note, by the way, the archaic spacing of “near by” and “can not”, which now are spelled as one word.)

Dave DaBee Still Busy
We (the editorial “we” consisting of me and Fred) had the pleasure of lunching with Dave DaBee last week. Dave is a goldmine of information. Do check out his web page to learn about his trip from near death to his intercontinental talks on beating cancer by using the Internet.
            He also sent a great New York Times article on spelling.

Near-Language Experiences
In an advice column:  “A small child who couldn't have been more than 7 years old had a near-drowning experience at the pool.” Is this like a near-death experience? Why wouldn’t the writer say the child almost drowned? He also had a survival experience, since he’s alive. “Experience” is one of those words like “area” and “field” that are used to increase word count and add a vague sense of importance to plain speaking.
            And somewhere I read about “the estimable Herman Cain”. Mr. Cain is to be esteemed, but the idiomatic expression is either “esteemed” (respected) or “inestimable” (his worth is too high to be evaluated). “Estimable” or “inestimable” has to do with estimation, with rating, rather than esteeming. If the writer was thinking about esteem, he should have written “the esteemed Herman Cain”. You could argue a case for “estimable” but it won’t fly.      
            Perhaps some writers fear using clichés so much that as soon as they recognize a familiar expression, they feel they have to twist it into unfamiliarity to be original. But you have to know what and when to twist.

Grammar Nazis
Did I tell you already about Grammar Nazis, caught on YouTube? Brilliant. Sic semper tyrannis!

Littachur Nazis
Tom Simon told me about this one. The URL says it all: School board removes Sherlock Holmes novel as derogatory to Mormons. The fact is that Mormons were polygamists. Do we have to erase history to be respectful? Other people are polygamists today. So you can’t disapprove, and you can’t even mention anything that anyone might disapprove of.

More than once recently I’ve heard or read “misnomer” used incorrectly. It literally, and obviously, means “wrong name” but people use it to refer to a mistaken idea. I didn’t note specific examples but you get the idea.

Lived Again
Someone on CNN pronounced “short-lived” correctly. I’ve written about this in the past – PO 29 in 2003, to be exact, and I will reproduce my note in its entirety:

"Lived" in "short-lived" or "long-lived" is usually pronounced as the past-tense verb ("he lived") but I think it ought to rhyme with "jived". My reasoning (and there are others who agree) is this: Someone or something that is short-lived has a short life; I think the phrase came from the word "life" and took the same path as wife-wive-wives ~ "I have come to wive it wealthily in Padua" (The Taming of the Shrew). In other words, it comes from the noun, not the verb, like calling a person short-sighted, not short-seen.

The CNN line was: “The Pony Express was short-lived.” The reporter said “lived” to rhyme with “jived”.

Eternal Proofreading Plagues
I listened to much of the book Misquoting Jesus on my recent road trip, which was not so much about theology as about copying manuscripts in the old days. Mistakes were made, either through carelessness, or because the scribe wanted to change text he didn’t agree with. In one case, a scribe was copying a double column of text about the “begats” but read across instead of down, leading to God being the son of somebody or other. I was amused to learn of these verses, Revelation 22:18-19:

18. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

19. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

In other words, to hell with sloppy editors, proofreaders, and typesetters.

Publishing/Music Shakedown
I recently discovered that CafePress discontinued its CD printing service, thus the autobiographical CD of Sonny Robertson that I produced isn’t available right now. I will find another producer soon. Sonny, by the way, will be performing in England at the Shakedown Blues event on September 24.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Thanks to everyone who bought any of my writing on Amazon Kindle! I received my tiny royalty check with great pleasure, and have new writing projects in mind.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Parvum Opus 390: Summer Read

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere

Arty Bollocks

My work explores the relationship between new class identities and urban spaces. With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Roy Lichtenstein, new synergies are created from both explicit and implicit textures. Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of the mind. What starts out as hope soon becomes corrupted into a hegemony of lust, leaving only a sense of chaos and the chance of a new reality. As spatial phenomena become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the possibilities of our future.

Is an image or even a thought forming in your mind now? This is an artistic statement generated by David James Ross, whose Arty Bollocks is another one of those automated statement generators that I love. They’re like MadLibs but with a point. The variables are in bold type. Make your own list of trendy and abstract nouns, adjectives, verbs, and names, and try your own artistic, personal, or mission statement.
            If you like Arty Bollocks, be sure to read The Painted Word (almost typed “Pained”) by Tom Wolfe.
            By the way, wouldn’t Arty Bollocks be a great name for a band? (American translation: arty B.S.)

Summertime and the Readin’ Is Easy

Today I picked up a book on the clearance table — Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. Writing about perfume must be like writing about wines. We can compare unfamiliar or complex smells and tastes to familiar ones, but cannot reproduce them with words, though much of the terminology in this book is chemical. Visual images can be approximated in writing — or does it just seem so? — but the language of smell is more esoteric.
            Examples from the glossary:

Drydown:  The late stage of a fragrance that develops after the top and heart notes subside and before the smell completely fades.
Green:  Smelling of cut grass or leaves.
Heart note:  The middle portion of a fragrance, after the top note subsides but before the drydown, often considered to be the fragrance’s true personality.
Sillage:  French for the wake left in the water by passing ships; fragrance industry jargon for the scent trial left by a perfume at a distance from the wearer.
Top note:  The first few minutes of a fragrance, when the materials with the lowest molecular weights and highest volatilities evaporate first.

            I was pleased to find that two of my favorite scents are highly rated.
            Diorissimo, from Dior, though not sold anymore in its original formulation, “is the archetypal muguet [lily of the valley]…. The original 1956 Diorissimo established Edmond Roudnitska as the Mozart of postwar French perfumery. And Diorissimo was a truly Mozartian fragrance, with a catchy jaunty presto tune like the overture to The Marriage of Figaro…. The best way to describe [the new version] is as the voice of a great soprano close to retirement. The melody, the timbre are there, but some of the high notes are a little forced and have lost the effortless soaring, the liquid fluency of old.”
            Grey Flannel is, “despite the fact that [it] can occasionally feel a little crude, a masterpiece.”
            I could go on. If you’d like me to look up the description of a fragrance, let me know, though there are some I couldn’t find, and not just because they’re too cheap. The books lists a number of cheap, low rated scents, but some cheaper ones are well rated too.
            Years ago a woman said to me, apropos of nothing (though we were in a restaurant), that when you smell something, molecules must actually enter your nose, thus your body. Which is obviously true but I’d never thought about it before. That steak or that flower or that guy next to you is actually getting inside your head, and elsewhere.

            I’m also reading The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, by David Mamet, in which the famous playwright writes about, around, under, over, and above his conversion from left to right politically. If you like his theatrical work before, you should like this book. I’ve seen some of his movies, and House of Games stuck with me, a pretty good suspense movie with a weird atmosphere.

            And the entry for trash is an out-of-print bodice (or toga) ripper by satirist Florence King. In The Florence King Reader she excerpted a chapter from an early novel, The Barbarian Princess, which she said is mercifully out of print. But I got a copy from a used book dealer. King made money writing genre fiction and wanted to get in on the gravy train that was the lurid “sweet savage” fiction she says was a backlash to the feminist movement of the era.
            She made a lot of money from this book under the nom de plume Laura Buchanan, in which a Celtic princess, Lydda, is kidnapped and escapes, is forced into wedlock, is ravished and raped, escapes and becomes a Druid warrior priestess, from Britain to Rome to North Africa and back with stops along the way, and so on and on until she finally marries her true love, the Saxon invader Thel. The book is ridiculous yet gripping. King knew her history and her Latin. She even threw in Saint Patrick as Lydda’s youthful boyfriend, who later unites her and Thel in Christian (at last) wedlock.
            I’m thinking about writing to King about this 1978 paperback. The characters on the cover were painted by someone who didn’t read any part of the book:  the red-headed Celtic princess is a brunette and the big blond Saxon looks like Charles Bronson. And on the back Lydda, wearing half a robe, appears to have no pelvic bones.
            If you don’t like trash, you’ll at least like Florence King’s other work, especially her book reviews. These days her columns appear in National Review.

Serial Karma

Dave DaBee notified me that the Oxford Style Guide now advocates dropping the Oxford comma, which is the serial comma, the one in a series before the final conjunction. We’ve talked about this before, here, so I won’t go into detail, but this is a horrible development and further evidence of weakening standards everywhere. What can it hurt to keep the comma? It often aids in comprehension, and when it doesn’t necessarily, it adds a sense of order, logic, and completeness to a series.
            The only bright note is that it seems that it’s the Oxford PR office style guide that perpetrated this shabbiness, not the Oxford University Press.
            Daily Writing Tips has a good array of examples of where and why to use commas in 10 Comma Cases in Which More Is More.

Beauty vs. Cutey

Hopping to another on the Oxford Comma site, I found an article on the most beautiful words in the English language, with a short list of suggestions. This is purely subjective as you have to distinguish between the sound of the word and its meaning. For instance, onomatopoeia is on the list, but why? It’s rhythmic but its meaning isn’t particularly beauteous. Someone once complained about the sickening sweetness of something like “summer afternoon” offered as most beautiful words. (Sorry about all the esses.)
            Are words with hard K sounds less beautiful, like cookie? Cookie is a beautiful word if you’re looking at a tray full of freshly baked cookies with chocolate chips — especially if accompanied by a bottle of Coca-Cola. Maybe cookie is a cute word rather than a beautiful word, but no one ever discusses cute words.
            Because of the contrast between sound and meaning — both of which are subjectively pleasing or otherwise — we have a panoply of names given to babies by parents who were more attuned to sound that meaning, such as this one invented by a comedian, Lemonjello, with the stress on the second syllable, a sort of aural allusion to Michelangelo; and the mythical twins Syphilis and Gonorrhea.


Heard on the radio:

“He’s taken some deserv-ed time off.”

“Deserved” was pronounced with three syllables, which is an antique pronunciation though it remains in some words, such as “bless-ed” alongside of “blessed” (blest). But shortly after, the same speaker on the radio said “deserved” with two syllables. I kind of like hearing the old version, a bit of the past popping up unexpectedly.

Not Quite

Someone/s wrote:

·         “A saying chalk full of wisdom.” Could sound like that in speech but it’s actually “chock-full”, possibly from “choke full”, which would suggest choking because your gullet is too full.

·         “It’s a shoe-in.” Should be “shoo in”, an easy winner, from “shoo” meaning to urge something or someone in a particular direction.