Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Parvum Opus 395: Plundering the Depths

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere


It’s been months since I wrote a Parvum Opus, partly because I’ve been especially busy, with more students than usual, and I also got five books into print. Although today is a holiday and I’ve taken the day off from energy drinks, I was prodded into writing another PO today, on the Fourth of July, by two things.

One, Dave DaBee sent me a New York Times article about a young man’s journey away from semicolons and back again. I have my own semicolon story. On my first editing job, as assistant editor at the University of Tulsa publications office, my boss, the editor, said semicolons essentially don’t exist. Her theory was that we do not use semicolons when we speak. But I thought then as now that you might as well say periods and colons don’t exist, nor hyphens nor en dashes and em dashes. I know full well that I feel a difference between a comma and a semicolon when I speak. That woman also didn’t like “over” with numbers, as in “It’s over 100 degrees today” or “It costs over $500”; she said “over” didn’t make sense. But this common idiomatic preposition meaning “more than” is not confusing to anyone.

Later I had another editor who objected to sentences starting with “There is / are ...”. For example, I had to change sentences such as “There are objections to semicolons” to “Objections to semicolons exist”.

Another editor objected to “per” and insisted on the English “a”, as in “Corn is $1 a dozen today”.

To be fair, they were good editors and I learned from all of them. I just didn’t always agree with them. But editors have their quirks, and writers and proofreaders and assistant editors have to accommodate them.

The second PO trigger is that since CreateSpace, the online publishing service I’m using for my books, introduced European distribution, I have actually sold a copy of Parvum Opus Volume I in Europe; don’t know where or to whom; could it be someone on this mailing list? Anyway, thanx and a tip of the Revolutionary tricorne.

If for no other reason, I shouldn’t have neglected PO for so long because I received more good contributions from Mike Sykes, and here they are, in blue.

·         Why does télécharger mean download? Of course to the English ear it sounds like you’re recharging something.

True. But the answer to your question is that, in French, charger is the word for 'load'.

·         Every once in a while there’s a flap about changing English spelling to a phonetic system. But whose English pronunciation are you going to attempt to reproduce? The Queen of England or Bostonian John Kennedy? A Southern belle or an Irishman?

Aye, there's the rub. What makes the problem even worse is that pronunciation also varies over time. I believe someone has shown that aforesaid queen's pronunciation has changed since she came to the throne. Not to mention the Great Vowel Shift.
            I once attended a performance of Julius Caesar presented as it would have been in the Bard's day, and it was quite difficult to follow.
An extra thanks to Mike for mentioning the Great Vowel Shift.
·         Re his discussion of Starbucks’ names for coffee sizes, read this story from Not Always Right and get back to me: How to Show-Up a Show-Off. Quote: “She probably looked at you, assumed you were a man, and was therefore completely confused by your non-fat non-sugar orange mocha chip frappuccino order. Real men drink real coffee.” Real men drink it straight. OK, I’m willing to concede that real men sometimes like sweet drinks.
I'm not.


We should start collecting the crazy autocorrect spellings that pop up on not so smart phones. This story is from, by Randy Cassingham.

DAMN YOU, AUTOCORRECT! A student at a technical college sent a text message: "Gunna be at west hall today." West Hall is a combination middle and high school in Gainesville, Georgia. There were two problems with the message: he sent it to the wrong number, and his phone auto-corrected the spelling of the first word — to "gunman". The alarmed recipient called police, who advised the school to go into lockdown to deal with the apparent threat. Once the message was tracked down to the sender and it became apparent that it was all a mistake, the lockdown was lifted. (RC/Gainesville Times) ... And to anyone who can type on a phone without ever making a mistake, we say this: You're a better man than I am, Gunman Din.

What would have happened if the student had used the typical spelling “gonna”? On my Android, I got “gunman” for gunna, though “gunna” was listed as a choice, but got “gonna” for gonna.

An ad for heating and air conditioning systems:

            An HVAC system comforts rooms…

No, it doesn’t. You can comfort people but you make rooms comfortable. I don’t know if the ad writer just wanted to abbreviate the sentence and thought all similar words are equivalents, or if he consciously wanted to get potential customers into a thumb-sucking mood.


Heard on the radio: “Plundered new depths of cynicism” instead of “plumbed new depths of cynicism”. “Plumb” comes from a root meaning “lead”, like the lead weight you use on a plumb bob, a hanging weight for determining verticality. We use plumb weights on fishing line too, to take the hook down. Maybe that’s why the speaker or writer confused it with plunder, which perhaps he interpreted as digging down into something for treasure, in addition to the visual similarity of the words. However, a few more seconds of thought might have suggested that cynicism is not a treasure trove from which to steal gems.


I came across the word “chav” when I was watching the series “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”, not to be confused with “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding”, wherein “chav” does not pertain. You can find amusing definitions for “chav” in UrbanDictionary, all of the definitions written in a supercilious tone, not by chavs themselves, who perhaps are illiterate. In the course of looking up this word, I ran across this in Wikipedia:

One former Police Officer who worked at the City of London Police as a Special Constable in 2004 and later another Force as a paid full time officer in the United Kingdom [14] published a book in 2010 entitled 'Stab Proof Scarecrows' that stated Chav was an abbreviation for 'Council Housed and Violent',[15] however this is a backronym.

So, backronym, something like a back formation.

The Urban Dictionary definitions of chav seemed unnecessarily dehumanizing of these kids, until I remember that people can be dehumanized and decivilized; at some point, they choose to become so. We think people must choose the highest when they see it, but sometimes they don’t. This is why we need missionaries.


The latest book I published is a new edition of poems by my late friend, Ray Vincent. I’d published my small collection of his work 20 years ago, 10 years after he died, and this spring suddenly decided to republish them in a better edition. I expanded my intro, and gathered a few memories of Ray from three of his friends. In the course of tracking down people, I got in touch with Ray’s sister, who was publishing her larger collection of Ray’s poems for the first time, by chance at exactly the same time I was working on my book. We met in Akron a few weeks ago. Some of the poems appear in both books but most do not. My book is The Prisoner of Magic City: A Book of Pottery. Karen Vincent’s book isWhat Made Him Sing: Poetry 1964-1980. (Note that the typo on the Amazon page, “Poerty”, was not her mistake. But “Pottery” on my cover is intentional.) Both books are available on Amazon; mine is also at CreateSpace. What Made Him Sing also has its own web page.