Friday, May 6, 2011

Parvum Opus 388: English Comprisition

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere

Herb’s Comprisition

Herb Hickman wrote:

Well, Little Opus, I find some things here to carp about.
First, Taliban and other rad muslims don't bury a woman up to her neck to stone her.  That would take out all the fun, because she'd be dead before they got in more than a few licks. Buried up to her neck, she could neither inhale nor exhale, and the pressure would likely rupture the abdominal organs too.  Actually there's a considerable body of phoney correctness involved. The version I've heard is that correctly a woman is buried up to her waist and a man up to his chest, because he is likely stronger and more likely to be able to free himself and run.  If you google stoning, there are a lot of videos. The video quality is very bad, for which you will be grateful.
Second, "comprises" is not ever synonymous with "includes." It means "is made up of," as in the example.  "Comprises" needs to be followed by some sort of stab at describing what it's made up of. "Includes" can be followed by anything, even a single small component, anything that is present in the subject entity.  A Buick includes a set of tires, but it doesn't comprise a set of tires.
We don't need "comprision" because we have the perfectly good word "comprisition."

Excellent point about “comprise”; the word “include” should often be avoided anyway since it so often replaces a better, more specific verb. I will start trying to use the word “comprisition” every day.

An Indefinite Period

Dubious translations in the New American Bible include this one in Psalm 23:

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”

Compare to the familiar:

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Possibly “for years to come” is a more accurate translation, though probably not, but it hardly gives one a sense of secure futurity, and in fact takes the reader away from the idea of eternity back into the present world, where your dwelling could be pulled out from under you suddenly even if it is the house of the Lord. Houses of the Lord are being destroyed all over, particularly in the Middle East.

Parting Shot

I finally asked why the racquetball court was broken, out of order, and out of service. A cover fell off the overhead sprinkler, so the court was shut down so a ball wouldn’t hit the sprinkler and turn it on accidentally; however much fun that might be, the damage would cost thousands to fix.

Silver Cross

Whenever I heard the line “cross my palm with silver” I always thought it meant simply to put money in the hand. However, I saw a movie (sorry, I didn’t write down the title) from the WWII era where a man at a country fair goes into the gypsy fortune teller’s tent. When she tells him to “cross my palm with silver” he actually makes the sign of a cross on her palm with a coin. It’s doubtful whether this symbolizes the Christian cross since Christianity warns against fortune telling.


I didn’t record where I heard this, but someone said:

“He was never seen from again.”

Undoubtedly just a verbal mix-up between “heard from” and “seen” but it does bring to mind the differences between seeing and hearing as expressed in the English language. We receive sound from a source into our ears. Although theoretically the same process occurs with sight – we receive an optical stimulus into the eyes – we sometimes speak as though vision is active, not passive, different from hearing. There are people, such as Rupert Sheldrake, who believe that sight does entail an active extension of some kind of energy from the eyes to the object, and in fact he’s devised experiments to test this, like staring at the back of someone’s head to see if you can make them turn around. Try it.

We do speak of “active listening” but that does not refer to any adjustment of the ears, just nods and grunts to cue someone that we are paying attention, and of course we distinguish between seeing and looking, hearing and listening.


Hazel Dickens, a singer from West Virginia, died. The New York Times obituary called her accent and delivery “atavistic”. That is a poor word choice. At first I thought the writer meant simply “old style” but technically “atavistic” means a throwback, thus it would be a throwback to something before Hazel Dickens’ own time. In any case, the connotation of the word is always primitive and generally negative. The obit writer, Bill Fiskics-Warren, probably thought he was praising her, but there’s condescension in that word.

Loan Words

English has taken aboard a lot of words from other languages without sinking. The Anglo-Saxon vessel remains. As English continues to spread around the world, it will take on even more. Languages from which we’ve imported vocabulary range from  Afrikaans to Welsh. Zulu is  not on the list linked here, but we need a Z to complete it. As it turns out, South African English has imported Zulu words, some of which are now standard English, such as names of animals like impala and mamba.

But I object to the term “loan words”. It’s not like we’re giving them back. Some anti-Western ideologues have actually said we’ve “stolen” words from other languages. That’s not accurate either.

Oh the Awkwardness

Heard somewhere:

“It would have been a good thing had it been able to happen.”

It would have been a better thing had it been:

“It would have been a good thing could it have happened.”

The speaker’s problem was trying to form a fairly complex sentence using “to be able”, that awkward and irregular verb. “Could it have happened” suggests possibility of occurrence while “to be able” suggests a more active participation in existence. Most things happen without active will, at least verbally.


Fred Bauer designed the Pringles can and was so enamored of his design that he had some of his ashes – his “cremains” – buried in one, in Springfield Township, Ohio. “Cremains” is obviously a neologism, but one that ought to be eschewed, except for people who want to be buried in Pringles cans. The word looks sort of like it could be the name of an artificial cream substitute.

YouTube Grammar

Did you know some teachers post videos about grammar on YouTube? I’m not recommending any one of them in particular, just passing on the info.

Witless Lit Crit

A 2003 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles changed the plot, for no apparent reason. In the original story, the old tale of the hound was about a lord who sent the hound after a girl who ran away to escape the evil intentions of him and his cronies. In this movie, the story was about the lord sending the hound out to find his runaway wife. It didn’t make sense. Why do screenwriters do things like this? Even if the twit – one Allan Cubitt – had never read the Sherlock Holmes story, he’d probably seen the previous movies, whose screenwriters didn’t think they were better plotters than Arthur Conan Doyle. There were other changes in the plot too, but this one actually weakens the aura of evil. Cubitt probably doesn’t believe in evil. Rewriting literature for no dramatic purpose (as is sometimes required for screen or stage) is something like rewriting history.


I chanced to look at the statistics feature of my Parvum Opus blog (, and was surprised to find numbers for hits broken down by countries. By April of this year, there had been page views from:

United Kingdom

More from the UK than anywhere, of course, but I’m surprised to have hits from … Iran?