Thursday, March 31, 2011

Parvum Opus 387: Kinetic Word Action

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


·         We’re at kinetic military action in Libya. You can read what some law professors say about it, if that will make you feel any better. Someday veterans will tell kinetic military action stories, just like they’ve been telling police action stories and conflict stories for the last few decades. Since “kinetic” and “action” are redundant, what does the word “kinetic” add, other than the assurance that we’re not waging military inertia in Libya?

·         fictomercial (or literatisement) is a novel that contains plugs for a product or even a region, not just a product. You’ve seen product placement on TV and in movies; look for it in popular fiction. If I could get Coca-Cola to pay me for a plug, I’d do it. But I have integrity; I actually like Coke.

·         Taliban is the new Nazi, when applied to Catholics. Next time you see a pack of Catholics stoning a woman buried up to her neck, you’ll know what to call them. Actually, it’s not clear to me what this is supposed to mean. I suspect various people use it against traditional Catholics and some Catholics use it against other Catholics. I guess Taliban is the new Nazi, so people will start calling those with whom they disagree Talibani. It would be a change. Usually, of course, comparatively conservative (formerly “liberal”) people are called Nazis by people who forget that Nazi stands for National Socialist. The Russians started identifying the Nazis as “right” when they split politically, the Russian Communists being International and Germany being National Socialists. Since Germany wanted to spread itself all over, I don’t see that as a real difference.


One more time: comprisecomposeconsistMark Nichol in Daily Writing Tips wrote about his entanglement with the word “compromise”. His explanation is slightly fuzzy around the edges, but he seems to have come to the correct conclusion. Examples:

·         A dictionary comprises word definitions, etymology, and a pronunciation guide. (synonymous with “includes”)
·         A dictionary is composed of many etc. (synonymous with “is made up of”)
·         A dictionary consists of many etc. (synonymous with “is made up of”)
            NEVER: A dictionary is comprised of many etc.

I would like to further confuse the issue by suggesting a new word, “comprision”. I think the verb needs a noun. Compose has composition, consist has consistency, comprise has zilch. How about, “The comprision of the dictionary was expanded to include imaginary words.”


Regarding the racquetball court that was out of order, then out of service, Mike Sykes said:
Nothing really [wrong with saying something is broken]. Except that, for me, 'broken' has always connoted a physical fracture, or at least some sort of fragmentation, rather than any malfunction. It always seemed a little odd to hear a colleague say, for example, that a specification was broken, meaning perhaps logically inconsistent. Yet I'm quite accustomed to think of a vehicle as broken down at the side of the road. Or break of day.
            Oh, give us a break!
            Time for a break.

And, I’m broke this week.
            Mike also asked who goes around disabling all those disabled toilets, not a phrase we usually find in public bathrooms in the U.S. We usually, though not always, reserve “disabled” for people.
            In Spanish, if you break something, you say, “Se rompio”, meaning “It broke itself”, neatly sidestepping culpability in the neat way that the passive voice does.

Once again we see how word choice can editorialize, as in an article referenced on the cover of The Nation magazine:

The struggle for single payer in Vermont

Obviously, if there’s a struggle for something, there’s likely to be a struggle against it too, but would the author write about “the struggle against single payer in Vermont”? Does the actual cover line make you think the writer is for or against single payer health insurance? Why or why not?
            It’s the word “struggle”. In politics that word always makes you think of a righteous campaign, complete with noble ideals and sacrifice, more so than “fight” or “battle” for some reason. The Nation is an opinion magazine, not a newspaper, so it’s justified in editorializing, but you often see these kinds of word choices in newspapers too, whether the choices are thoughtfully made or knee-jerk.


Again on writing from the art world, from something or other I read or heard:

He studied reproductive prints of English and American landscapes.

He studied reproductions or he studied prints. He’s not just redundant, the writer forgot that “reproductive” refers to procreation, not copies, though it would be nice if prints would reproduce themselves.


Classic children’s writer Munro Leaf published Grammar Can Be Fun in 1934 but it seems to be out of print. Someone published a page from it on Improbable Research and a few pages are viewable at Curious Pages, but a search on Amazon doesn’t even turn up used copies. Manners, Reading, and Geography can be fun too, by Leaf, and are readily available, but not Grammar. Our library doesn’t even have it., however, lists a number of used copies for sale by various dealers, ranging from $30 to $225. I didn’t even know I wanted it until now.


I heard the word “flaccid” pronounced “flassid” rather than “flaksid”, which I thought was the correct pronunciation, like “success” where the two Cs sound different, but both versions of “flaccid” are acceptable. “Flassid” sounds limper than “flaksid” anyway. You can’t beat that K sound for impact.


Someone I know who’s living in Japan (and luckily untouched by the earthquake) says there’s a hybrid language composed of 1 part English, 1 part Spanish, 1 part Japanese. For example:

Top of Form
わたしの amiga は on her phone cuando alguien でんわしました then she went a su trabajo
An online translation goes something like, “My friend was on her phone when somebody called then she went to work.” That’s probably not exactly right. I would avoid trying to use Jaspanglish, you could get hurt.
            And doesn’t it always seem odd to think about the intersection of a foreign language with another foreign language, other than English? I mean, why would Spanish-speaking people go to Japan, and why wouldn’t they all speak English together? Maybe it’s just me, but the thought gives me the same disconnect as hearing a small child speak another language.


The TV comedy Community is back with a new season on Thursday nights (you can see episodes online; the one on politics is particularly funny), and continues to whack the culture as it so richly deserves. One character said, “Girls today are so un-desensitized.” Note the difference between this and “sensitive”. I’m still brooding over it.


Another bookstore conversation reported on (that is, the customer is not):

Customer: “This book looks interesting. How do I watch it?”
Clerk: “Watch it?”
Customer: “Yes, where can I find the movie?”
Clerk: “I don’t think this book has been adapted into a movie.”
Customer: “What do you mean? Where can I go to watch it? I want to know what happens in the book!”
Clerk: “Forgive me for asking, but if you want to know what happens, why not just read it?”
Customer: “Read? How stupid! Where’s the movie! All books are made into movies so that we don’t have to read them!”
Clerk: “I am sorry, I can’t help you. This is a bookstore. Only popular books—usually adventure stories—are adapted into movies. I am quite sure that this book hasn’t been made into a movie.”
Customer: “Why not?!”
Clerk: “Because it’s a fishing manual.”

Of course a fishing manual could be made into a documentary or training film. However, I wonder if the people who think all books are movies weren’t read to by their parents when they were little.


·         Late Boomer
·         So how many children don’t you have? / superimposed over CHOICE

Monday, March 21, 2011

Parvum Opus 386: The PO Delivery System

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere

Somewhere in the News Cloud

As newspaper pro Mark Twain said, choosing the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

·         Is it news or is it commentary?

Gov. rejects streetcar benefits

The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper article actually said that the governor of Ohio does not think the purported benefits of a streetcar in Cincinnati are real; it won’t create many jobs and it will cost a bundle. The headline presumes there are real benefits. Whether or not the benefits are there, the headline is inaccurate. The governor may deny that there are benefits; any number of synonymous verbs could be substituted. The governor may also reject the proposed streetcar plan. It’s hard to tell whether the headline writer was careless or convinced that the projected benefits are real, in which the story becomes an editorial, not a report.

·         A species of festivity (to quote Kingley Amis in Lucky Jim) featuring Bootsy Collins was announced in the paper:

Funk is not an option.

The writer meant, “Funk is not optional.” Big difference.

An option is a choice; not an option means it’s not on the menu. “Funk is not an option” means you could not choose to be funky.

Optional means you can choose it; not optional means you have no choice. “Funk is not optional” means you have to be funky.

 “Funk is not an option” could possibly carry the second meaning, but because “Funk is optional” would be the more common expression, it’s best to use it and avoid any momentary blip of confusion.

·         David Forsmark in a blog-on-blog wrote:

“the estimable Megyn Kelly”.

Usually we’d read “the inestimable Megyn Kelly”, meaning that her worth is so high it cannot be estimated (like invaluable). To say someone can be estimated, that her worth is measurable, may or may not be more accurate, but if this isn’t just a typo, I wonder what Forsmark might have meant. Was he being sarcastic or sloppy? When you turn accepted word formulas upside down, you ought to be sure your intention is clear.

TV Tropes

The web site TV Tropes covers themes or perhaps memes or just stuff that you’re likely to encounter in the media. A casual perusal suggests that the site isn’t so much about accepted views of stuff, but is tantamount to a mini-encyclopedia. Is this trip necessary, as they used to say in the days of WWII gas rationing?

Mystifying Spam

No, I didn’t click on any links, but this spam item was tempting:

Portugal regrets not bringing herbal supplements

That’s what happens when you pack light.

The President’s English

So we don’t have the, or a, president’s English. But there is the King’s English or Queen’s English in England. Of course, correct pronunciation of words exists, but that’s not the same as having a particular accent. “Harvard” and “Hahvahd” are both correct, and we could even accept “’Arvard” and “Hoivud”. But “Haravada”, for instance, could not fit on the continuum of comprehensible pronunciations. It looks like a Japanese version of the name.
If we had a “president’s English” which president would it be? Clinton, from Arkansas? Bush, from Texas? Truman, from Missouri? Kennedy, from Boston? Obama, by nowhere in particular, out of Harvard?
An early-nineteenth-century writer found American accents to be somewhat standardized:

"[Americans] at large speak English with a nearer accordance to your standard of pronunciation, than the inhabitants of England. . . . Of this the proof is complete. I have seen a dramatic performance, written in the West Country dialect: the words being spelt according to the local pronunciation; of which I was scarcely able to understand a sentence. . . . [But] from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, every American, descended from English ancestors, understands every other, as readily as if he had been bred in the same neighbourhood." Timothy Dwight, Travels in New-England and New-York, Vol. 4, pp. 276-77 (1822).

Of course, he does specify only descendants of the English, but presumably the English ancestors hadn’t all emigrated from the same spot in England, so what’s to account for greater standardization in 1822 in this large country compared to England?

Out of Service

No thanks to Parvum Opus, probably, but someone changed the sign on the racquetball court from “Out of Order” to “Out of Service”. Still a little awkward but better. “Out of Order” suggests to me moving parts. “Out of Service” just suggests not available for use. But I still don’t know what’s wrong with the racquetball court.

Grape Delivery System

Dave DaBee sent a link to “I, Grape” by Brock Clarke from the Boston Globe, on teaching his small child grammar. The boy has no verbs. If he wants a grape, he says, “I grape.” The mother is more tolerant than Mr. Clarke, but she has her own problems. Mr. Clarke wrote:

When I talk about teaching I tend to use words like “teaching.” Whereas my wife, in talking about her day, referred to her “delivery system.”

You see the problem. The boy will eventually learn to use verbs, but will his mother ever learn to avoid buzz words?

Occasional Verse

William Topaz McGonagall has been considered the worst of British poets (Scottish, from Irish parents), combining a tin ear with a burning desire to write. His most famous poem was about the collapse of the Tay Bridge near Dundee. When it was rebuilt, he wrote another poem to the new bridge. Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian, recited the original poem in a blizzard. Recitation improves it, and probably the blizzard does too.

The custom of writing public verse on the occasion of public disasters has declined, with exceptions, perhaps, for political verse on slavery and the depredations of white people, such as Maya Angelou’s poemon the occasion of the inauguration of President Clinton. (Her poem begs the questions, should African slaves have been glad to arrive in America, all things considered? Her poem didn’t sound too despondent. And, if the white Europeans hadn’t come, would there have been a United States at all?)


Mike Sykes said, regarding my comments on Impressionist gardens and Stieg Larsson’s books, I share your sentiment. But isn't that a sort of deconstruction, suggesting a meaning that the artist never intended?” Mike also sent a link to a comment on rape statistics in Sweden by sealgoesarfLet me elaborate.

First, I neglected to include a link to the painting with a woman in a green dress. It was not the Dorchester yard, it was “In the Luxembourg Garden” by  Charles Courtney Curran. If you look closely at the actual painting (which I did) you can see that the dress is dark green, in contrast to the cuffs, which are black. But the online reproduction isn't very good.
Second, Impressionist paintings of gardens ask you to contemplate beauty, not social and economic problems. Larsson’s three books, which amount to about 1,800 pages, or six or more average book lengths, cover Swedish politics, government, law, police, secret service, spies, motorcycle gangs, corporate shenanigans, psychiatry, journalism, erratic sexual relations, computer hacking, abuse of women and children, problematic immigration from the former Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe, and corruption in general, over quite a few years. In this case, it’s fair to ask why he would omit a major cultural change in Sweden, the large-scale immigration of people from a very different culture. Sealgoesarf suggests that immigrants who feel “isolated” are more prone to commit rape, though the natives do it more, but wouldn’t that suggest that people who are on the receiving end of immigration feel isolated too, and thus their rapes are equally justified?

You’ve Got to See the Movie

Bookstore conversation reported on (that is, the customer is not):

 (A young woman, about 20 years old, comes up to the counter holding a copy of The Bible.)
Clerk: “Hi, did you find everything you needed today?”
Customer: “Yeah, hey, can you tell me what this is about?”
Clerk: “The Bible?”
Customer: “Yeah, what’s it about?”
Clerk: “The Bible has two parts, the Old Testament which is scriptures and the New Testament, which contains the story of Jesus’ life and works as told through the gospels, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”
Customer: “Huh. Is it any good?”
Clerk: “It’s pretty popular.”
Customer: “Nah, I’ll just get this one instead.” *puts a copy of Twilight on the counter*

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Parvum Opus 385: The Untainted Word

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


Playing With Accordion Words

Rich Lederer sent along his piece about “accordion words”, close cousin to portmanteau words and syllepsis. I’ve excerpted parts of “Playing with Accordion Words” here. And do see The King’s Speech if you haven’t already.

Garnering twelve Academy Award nominations and four Oscars, including Best Picture, The King's Speech had its coronation, on February 28, as the most honored film of the year. Among its many excellencies is the double entendre in its title. The word Speech in The King's Speech means the speaking of George VI, the stammerer who did not want to become king. At the same time and in the same space, the word Speech means the particular address, in 1939, that King George VI delivered to his British subjects exhorting them to join in battle against the Germans….

Like people, words grow after they are born. Once created, words seldom sit still and remain the same forever. Some words expand to take over larger territories: Once fabulous meant "resembling or based on a fable." Later came the expanded meaning, "incredible and marvelous." A holiday first signified "a holy day," but modern holidays include secular days, such as Valentine's Day* and Independence Day. ….

…The word gay** … can designate all homosexuals, as in "gay rights," or only male homosexuals, as in "the gay and lesbian community."

Business started out as a general term meaning literally "busy-ness." After several centuries of life, business picked up the narrower meaning of "commercial dealings." In 1925 Calvin Coolidge used the word in both its generalized an specialized senses when he stated, "The chief business of the American people is business." …

I have made up the term "accordion words" to describe these double-duty words. In the examples that follow, I list the broader meaning first and the narrower meaning second:…

· Gentleman***: (1) a male: "Ladies and gentlemen . . . ." (2) a refined man.

· Instrument: (1) something used to achieve an end: "Lord, let me be Thy instrument on this earth." (2) something used to produce music: "Bill Clinton's and Lisa Simpson's instrument is the saxophone."**** ...

· Segregate (similarly discriminate*****): (1) to set apart (2) to set apart on the basis of race.

· Temperature*****: (1) a degree of heat (2) too high a degree of heat: “You have a temperature.”…

Samuel Goldwyn once observed, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." Obviously the movie mogul used verbal to mean "oral," as do most speakers of American English. Butverbal (Latin verbum, "word") communication involves words spoken or written, as in "I'm trying to improve my verbal skills."****** In this sense, Goldwyn's Goldwynism isn't so funny after all.

Think of oral hygiene if you can’t remember that ora means mouth. This loss of distinction in meanings is not only a loss to the language, it ruins a great Goldwyn story, as well as confusing the difference between oral and verbal sex.

I don’t know if this qualifies as an accordion word, but note that in the new translation of The New American Bible, the word booty has been replaced by spoils of war because people today only associate the word with rear end or sex (as in the movie “Booty Call”), because they hear a lot about rear ends and never read anything that might contain the word with the earlier meaning. Of course, the average reader also wouldn’t understand spoils as anything other than ruins or rots.

*Well, there was a Saint Valentine.

** I recently met a woman named Gay, a name that is probably never given to babies anymore, unfortunately. In the past even men were sometimes called Gay, usually short for Gaylord. According the government, the name seems to have disappeared, at least from the top 1,000 most popular names, after 1969. We don’t even have a replacement for the adjective gay (“Our hearts were young and gay”). Sure, you’ll find synonyms, but it’s a sad loss to the vocabulary.

***A professor from someplace in Mittel Europa once asked our class to define “gentleman” and I raised my hand and tentatively offered, “A gentleman is someone who is always kind to people?” He said “No! A gentleman is someone whose clothes and shoes are always clean and neat, even if they are old.” He meant a person of a certain class. I meant the American definition.

****Oh, never mind.

*****Often today people do not understand that the ability to discriminate is a necessary function of the mind.

******One of the cases where we used to be reprimanded for using the word in its narrower meaning: Everybody has a temperature. You mean he has a fever.”

The Tainted Word

In the current exhibit of garden paintings by American Impressionists at a Cincinnati museum, the person who wrote the notes for each painting fell victim to the modern compulsion to impose a certain political slant on art. A lovely painting by Edmund Tarbell, “In the Orchard”, 1891, depicts his wife and relatives on a sunny summer day in Dorchester, Massachusetts; the orchard is unmowed; it is a peaceful, informal scene. The notes posted on the wall next to this and the other paintings generally say something about technique and training, compare these paintings to the French Impressionists’ work of the period, and discuss the rising popularity of formal and informal gardening. But the annotater couldn’t resist saying that these people hanging out in the back yard are “untainted by grimmer realities of contemporary American urbanization, labor conflict and social strife”. Well, when you barbecue out in the backyard with your friends and family, don’t you feel untainted by grimmer realities? That’s what the beer is for.

You could say the same thing about every painting in the world:

Mona Lisa smiles as if unaware of the Borgias.

“Starry Night” by Van Gogh cavalierly ignores the rotting corpses on earth.

Remington’s “Cracker Cowboys” ride their horses on the job callous to the plight of the unemployed.

I think the person who wrote those placards was still queasy from the influence of the bitter Goya etchings that preceded the garden collection. Or possibly the writer was aware that Dorchester is no longer a pleasant semi-rural suburb of Boston but an urbanized neighborhood replete with social strife and more gang members than fruit trees.

At the exhibit, I heard a woman viewing “In the Orchard” reiterate the sentiment of the placard (and it is sentiment) as if it were received truth, and the man with her said, “Yeah, someone had to carry the chairs out.” Judging by my experience, the man in the painting probably carried the chairs out, or if that’s too sexist for a modern sensibilities, let’s assume the ladies helped carry the chairs outside.

The people viewing the paintings and writing the explanatory notes proclaim their social “awareness” and thus their virtue. They must be conflicted about the fact that they even like art, which requires leisure to produce and to see and appreciate, and often requires wealth to procure and preserve. But artists themselves are not all obsessed with economics and class warfare.

Further evidence of the blindness of the writer appears in the note for another garden painting, which says the woman in that garden is wearing a black dress. The dress is not black, it is dark green. If you think it’s just the painterly indication of shadow, using colors to depicit blacks and whites, not so, because there are very definitely black cuffs at the end of the green sleeves.

Everything isn’t a matter of black and white.

To depict the deep reality of one moment in time, you don’t have to simultaneously invoke something different or distant.

Those immersed in grimmer realities of social strife are oblivious to the possibilities of peace in a quiet grove.

Nonetheless, I will introduce a brief political comment on another work of art, the popular crime trilogy by late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson, who wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I read all three long books, and hope that his common-law widow is able to produce more manuscripts. (She’s in a legal wrangle with Larsson’s family.) The books are engrossing and, like the late Tony Hillerman’s books, show the eye of the reporter: clear, detailed writing with not much sense of humor. Sometimes there’s too much detail; I suppose if you’re Swedish and understand Swedish politics of the last few decades, you’d get more out of the story. But I enjoyed the bits about computer hacking even though I don’t have that much technical knowledge.

The center of the books is Lisbet Salander, a young woman who endures, and avenges, extreme and repeated abuse. She is a super-hero of improbable survival. I will bypass the question of writers (and movie producers) who supposedly object to torture but who depict torture in much detail.

What I wonder is, why Larsson, the very modern, secular Swede with a Western ethic, never refers to the large influx of Muslims into Scandinavia who feel justified in raping and otherwise abusing what they think of as whorish Western women. Larsson’s plots are mired in the fallout of Cold War entanglement with aged Russians spies, and with Eastern European sex traffickers, real enough but perhaps not the major social problem there at this moment in time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Parvum Opus 384: Pahvum Opurse

Of the Language, With the Language, For the Language

Ben Zimmer has bowed out of the New York Times “On Language” column, once written by the late William Safire. The column may or may not be revived. But Zimmer’s farewell is really about technology, the digital era, and word processing, not about meaning. Safire was better.

Zimmer also quoted British language scholar David Crystal as saying, “Never predict the future with language.” You pretty much have to predict the future with language, but it’s hard to predict the futureof language.

Hoib and Dee-en and Moik

I think "Hoib" (or Hoyb) would definitely be Brooklynese, though I don't know where else it would apply. And the Brooklynites also would reverse the sounds, rendering "boyd" as "bird." A writer once made note of a perfect example at a baseball game where the Brooklyn Dodgers hosted the New York Yankees.

An ace pitcher for the legendary "best team of all time" 1927 Yankees was Brooklyn-born Dodger fan Waite Hoyt, and Hoyt was on the mound in this particular game. The way I hoid it, a hard line drive back to the pitcher's mound broke Hoyt's hand. After the play he circled around the mound holding his hand and grimacing in pain. One of the Brooklyn fans quickly recognized the situation and yelled out the announcement, "Hey, Hert is hoit!"

Waite Hoyt and teammate George Herman (Babe) Ruth were buds -- hard drinking carousing buds as it were. They remained friends for life after ending their baseball careers around the same time. Hoyt was an admitted alcoholic who joined AA and was sober the last 40 some years of his life. After his pitching career, he broke into broadcasting, reportedly overcoming a lot of prejudice against players in that line because of his own good vocabulary. In the early forties he landed the broadcaster job for the Cincinnati Reds network. Hoyt was not sober at that time, and made the national news when he was found passed out in downtown Cinci, reported as suffering from amnesia. Babe Ruth sent him a telegram, "Heard about your case of amnesia . . That must be a new brand!"

Another Brooklynese gem: “soilern steak.”

Dan Erslan wrote on Bostonese:

I was intrigued by the Boston pronunciation of words, so while I lived there, I made a little personal study of it. An r that precedes a vowel sound is always pronounced as an r. So in everyday speech a Bostonian would pronounce " in...". Likewise, when a vowel sound precedes a vowel sound an r sound is always inserted between the two as in "an idear of something." .… By adding the rbetween the vowels it isn't necessary to close one's throat at the end of idea and start a new exhale for the of. They can slur right through it. It's a little like the Boston habit of not stopping at stop signs. You often would hear JFK use that idear pronunciation. When the other JFK, John Kerry, ran for president he would often put the r in idea …, as would Howard Dean. I believe they did this intentionally evoke thoughts of Kennedy.

Mike Sykes asked who’s to say who’s correct about pronunciation. I wouldn’t say that Brooklynese or Bostonese isn’t correct. I like them. Pronunciation customs or preferences are usually not the same as differences in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, which may introduce errors in meaning. When I teach pronunciation to my foreign students, I have to teach them when to drop or elide sounds instead of pronouncing every letter in every word clearly and distinctly. That’s not the way we talk no matter what part of the country we live in.


A grammar book I recently used in class covered the auxiliary verb “will” for the future tense, and added that there is no verb “to will”. Not so, as I had to explain to my student. There is the legal sense (He willed me his fortune), and the meaning to effect something through the exercise of the [noun] will, often reflexive (He willed himself to eat the overcooked vegetables). Don’t trust everything you read in textbooks.

Unspeakable Charlie Sheen

The apparently rabid Charlie Sheen has said a number of interesting things lately, including that he’s been a “veteran of the unspeakable”. Oh, why stop now, Charlie? But this reminded me of unspeakable,ineffable, and unmentionable. Why should they have different connotations? Because they can. Too bad we don’t have the word effable (except as a sniggering faux obscenity).

Anyway, as much as I love cute kitty pix I never impose them on Parvum Opus readers, but I’m making an exception now because of Charlie Sheen’s manic way with words. As he says, “I got magic and I got poetry at my fingertips.” Read ‘em and weep, tweet, or shriek.

You can’t process me with a normal brain….

We are high priest Vatican assassin warlocks….

Sounds like way too much coke to me.

Sweet and Useful References


A fresh look at corporate buzzword bingo plus a brilliant tour de force anent same by Suzanne Rogers (seven paragraphs into the article on tollbooths in San Francisco).


10 Latin abbreviations you might be using incorrectly

40 Yiddish words you should know

“What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness”: A good article on the decline of coherence among college graduates.

New Look

Parvum Opus online at has a new look. For some reason the program does its own formatting in regard to paragraph breaks, fonts, etc. Unlike some layout designers I could name, I don’t think it’s a good idea to start a new paragraph without either and indent or a space before. It’s only a matter of chance that the preceding paragraph may not reach the right margin, thus identifying the paragraph break. Other than that, I like the new template, which looks like where we live: crowded.

While fiddling with the general design, I ran across (and used) the Fell English type font, designed by Igino Marini, who wrote:

The Fell Types took their name from John Fell*, a Bishop of Oxford in the seventeenth-century. Not only he created an unique collection of printing types but he started one of the most important adventures in the history of typography.

Note the faulty parallelism (forgivable as he is Italian):

Not only he created … but he started …

Logically the parallelism looks perfect but actual usage is to invert the word order in the first instance and use the alternate past tense form:

Not only did he create … but he started …

I wonder why we lost the simple past tense inverted form: Not only created he … It’s only used in very formal or poetic language.

In fact quite a lot of historical developments are unexplainable (by me). Dennis Miller joked, “Most people say beheaded, I say deheaded.” Why do we say beheaded when the be- prefix usually suggests an addition or intensification rather than a loss, as in befriend and besmirch?

* It turns out that this is the John Fell who inspired this bit of doggerel by one of his students, Tom Brown, who based it on a Latin line:

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.

More Questions

· Sign posted n LA Fitness:

Racquetball court is out of order. We are working as quickly as possible to resolve this issue.

I don’t play racquetball but as far as I can tell the court consists of walls, a floor, and a door, with no moving parts. What could be “out of order”?

· Why are some computer books in the Dummies series shelved under “professional computing”?

Step On It

The voice on a radio program about the formula for Coca-Cola said the “Step On” company processes coca leaves without the active cocaine for Coca-Cola; the active part goes to a pharmaceutical company. The speaker pronounced it “step on” but the name is actually Stepan. I noted it because “stepping on” a drug is slang for diluting or cutting it, for instance, mixing cocaine with powdered milk.


What I learned from our recent annual computer crash, this time because of a virus: always update your programs, including browsers, but especially plug-ins. Newer versions will be somewhat safer. Our Trojan horse came in through Java. In the latest version of Firefox, go to Tools – Add-ons – Find Updates to get a list of the status of your add-ons.