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.

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