Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sitting in the catbird seat

from www.wordsmith.org

catbird seat (KAT-burd seet) noun A position of power and advantage.
A catbird (named after its catlike call) is known to build a pile of rocks to attract a mate and sit on the highest point around. This expression was often used by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball commentator Red Barber (right) and further popularized by James Thurber in his 1942 New Yorker casual "The Catbird Seat," in which a character often utters trite phrases, including the expression "sitting in the catbird seat".

"So, Stillking Films seems perched in the catbird seat. 'Things are going very well for us at the moment,' David Minkowski says."
-- Steffen Silvis; Stillking is Still King; The Prague Post; (Czech Republic); Apr 5, 2007.

From "The Catbird Seat":
... In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was constantly shouting these silly questions at him. "Are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch? Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?" It was Joey Hart, one of Mr. Martin's two assistants, who had explained what the gibberish meant. "She must be a Dodger fan," he had said. "Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions--picked 'em up down South." Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. ... "

Monday, December 29, 2008

Loathsome -- not spelled as pronounced

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day


"Loathsome" is so spelled, even though the first syllable sounds like the verb (rhymes with "clothe") rather than the adjective (rhymes with "oath"). Perhaps as a result of the sound association, many writers err by writing "loathsome" -- e.g.:

o "An array of loathesome [read 'loathsome'] characters drifts through this anthropology of the urban undead." Chris Kidler, "Tama Janowitz's 'A Certain Age,'" Baltimore Sun, 8 Aug. 1999.

o "Severed Fingers and Toes (Gasworks) are extremely loathesome [read 'loathsome']-looking gummy chews, available at party stores." Charles Perry, "Extreme Treats," L.A. Times, 27 Oct. 1999.

o "The characters we first meet in 'Nurse Betty' are terminally dim, risible or loathesome [read 'loathsome']." James Verniere, "Zellweger Is a Reason to Love 'Nurse Betty,'" Boston Herald, 8 Sept. 2000.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

loathe; loath; loth

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

loathe; loath; loth.
"Loathe" (rhymes with "clothe") is the verb meaning "to abhor, detest."
"Loath" (rhymes with "oath"), with its needless variant "loth," is an adjective meaning "reluctant." The verb spelling is often wrongly used for the adjective -- e.g.:
o "If you are at a dinner, sitting at the head table, you may be loathe [read 'loath'] to stand up and walk away because you are on display up there." Charles Osgood, Osgood on Speaking 80-81 (1988).
o "Even young fans, usually loathe [read 'loath'] to adopt the musical tastes of their parents, are bewildered." Edna Gundersen, "Pink Floyd's Retrogressive Progression," USA Today, 25 Apr. 1994.
o "And, although the would-be cheerleader from San Antonio is loathe [read 'loath'] to brag about it, she has created her own case for being selected." Amy Hettenhausen, "3 Cheers for Sance," Austin Am.-Statesman, 16 Nov. 1995.

How not to get in to college

WSJ.com - How Not to Get Into College: Submit a Robotic Application Click above for Sue Shellenbarger's column in today's Wall Street Journal about common mistakes made by college applicants. Gaffes include --

  • Letting your mom sign her own name to your application.
  • Plugging in the wrong college name when answering, "Why are you applying here?"
  • Emailing the admissions dean 15 times to show your interest.
  • Expounding on your sexual experiences in your personal essay.

For more examples, go to TheJuggle.com.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Parallelism -- another example

From yesterday's News Sentinel:

"Center Kelley Cain's 6-foot-6 stature affords her high-percentage shots. But she's still overcoming the effects of reconstructive knee surgery last year as well as colliding with a practice player earlier this month."

In The Elements of Style, Elementary Principle of Composition No. 15 is

Express coordinate ideas in parallel form.

We could fix the sentence above by changing "colliding" to "a collision."

Load v. lode

from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

load, n.; lode.

Although they have similar etymologies, their meanings have fully diverged.

"Load" (in its basic senses) means "a quantity that can be carried at one time" or, by extension, "a burden" {a load of work} {a load off my mind}.

"Lode" carries the narrow meaning "a deposit of ore," as well as the figurative sense "a rich source or supply."The correct phrase, then, is "mother lode" (= an abundant supply), not "mother load."

Although dozens of headline writers have used "mother load" as a pun (usually in reference to pregnant women), some have fallen into true error -- e.g.:
  • "She worked as a computer programmer, but kept plugging away at the music. And finally, she hit the mother load [read 'mother lode']." Tony Kiss, "Messina Never Gave Up Dream of Music Career," Asheville Citizen-Times, 3 Nov. 1996.
  • "This site is a mother load [read 'mother lode'] of investing and financial planning information." Ted Sickinger, "Web Review," Kansas City Star, 6 Apr. 1997.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trying to trick us with the "ped" root

Here is a recent SAT Question of the Day:
Bolstered by his unflagging determination and ------- physical preparation, Tom Whittaker became the first amputee to successfully climb to the summit of Mount Everest.

A. fortuitous
B. assiduous
C. heedless
D. expeditious
E. pedantic

The Latin "ped" refers to the foot (as in a centipede or a pedestrian), so an SAT guesser with a little Latin might be lured into making a bad choice.

A "pedant" is a scholarly bore -- that is a: one who parades his learning b: one who is unimaginative or who unduly emphasizes minutiae in the presentation or use of knowledge It comes from the Italian word pedante, for male schoolteacher.

So how did feet get associated with teachers?

It was back when a paedagogus (Latin) or paidagogos [from the Greek paid, foot + agogos, leader, same root as agent] was the slave who escorted children to school.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Use "from" with "graduated"

From Don K. Ferguson's Grammar Gremlins column (5/22/05):

When using the verb "graduate," it's important to remember that the student is the one who moves on, not the school, according to Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage.

Therefore, the student graduates from the school. He or she does not graduate the school. The student, not the school, is the one affected.

In the mid-1900s, expressions like "she graduated Harvard" (omitting the "from" after "graduated") became somewhat popular and continue to be used today, but handbooks label this form as poor usage.

The expression "was graduated from" is also seen today, but it's a bit old-fashioned and is used mainly "in wedding announcements and obituaries," according to Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Greetings, Friends!" by Roger Angell returns

As we prepare to jingle jangle,
let's raise a glass to Roger Angell,
stepson of uber-idol E.B. White,
whose "Little Book" taught us all to write,
reclaiming wit extraordinaire
and getting nods from Remnick's chair.

"Greetings, Friends!," an annual poem in The New Yorker, vanished after its 1998 iteration and has not been seen again until now.

Click here for Angell's holiday poem.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Like" as a Conjunction

Excellent explanation from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:
In traditional usage, "like" is a preposition that governs nouns and noun phrases, not a conjunction that governs verbs or clauses.
Its function is adjectival, not adverbial.
Hence one does not write, properly, "The story ended like it began," but "The story ended as it began."
If we change the verbs to nouns, "like" is correct: "The story's ending was like its beginning."
Frequently, then, "like" needs to be replaced by the proper conjunction "as" (or "as if") -- e.g.: "Star-crossed lovers, they are -- like [read 'as'] in the play -- sprung from two households, both alike in dignity." -- Alisa Valdes, "Romeo & Juliet," Boston Globe, 17 Oct. 1995, at 59.
Prime offender: the old ad jingle, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."
Subprime offender: headline in the Knoxville News Sentinel 11/21/08: Just like Pearl planned on road

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A word we never tire of

The SAT Question of the Day below revisits one of our favorite words (see the link at the bottom of the message).

There has been little ------- criticism written about de la Mare; indeed, that which has been written is at the two extremes, either appallingly ------- or bitterly antagonistic.

A. hostile . . . ambiguous
B. recent . . . illogical
C. fervent . . . complimentary
D. objective . . . sycophantic
E. temperate . . . censorious

To revisit the most fun word in the list above, click here.

Links for JEM 475 (Sports Writing) students

For April 1, we'll read and talk about The Curious Case of Sidd Finch by George Plimpton. Please look very closely at the subhed.
The incredible Sidd Finch is pictured at right.

The book excerpt from Odd Man Out -- about a young pitcher's year in the minors

330 Strong by Steve Wulf, about the Virginia Tech marching band

One of three sections from King of the World by David Remnick
- Prologue: In Michigan -- Muhammad Ali, then and now
- pages 147 to 157 -- about Cassius Clay and the changing world of columnists in 1964
- pages 157 to 159 -- about Clay, the Beatles, and coumnist Robert Lipsyte

Frank Deford's profile of Max Schmeling, who fought Joe Louis in the 30s


Clich here for Chris Cilizza's words about the SI story "The Audacity of Hoops" by Alexander Wolff (1/19/09). Click here for the story itself.

Click here for a New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell that is a great example of sportswriting for a non-sports-page audience that also informs and intrigues the sports page audience at the same time. It's called "Most Likely to Succeed: How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?"

Here's a funny column by Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times about SEC football. It's true what he says -- you always need a Bear Bryant story.

Click here for the first of two interesting pieces in the Knoxville News Sentinel about Maryville College football. Click here for the second piece.

Click here for a list of Professional Values and Competencies that we will talk about in class.

Clich here for the UT Athletic Departments' 2007-2008 Annual Report (released Dec. 12). It's the kind of document that you can look at and come up with story ideas. It's a rare piece in that it talks about all the sports and both men's and women's sports in the same place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy

Other than the use of "like" in item 8, a great article.
Click here to link to the story on Alternet.

By Jen Angel, YES! Magazine

In the last few years, psychologists and researchers have been digging up hard data on a question previously left to philosophers: What makes us happy? Researchers like the father-son team Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, and ethicist Stephen Post have studied people all over the world to find out how things like money, attitude, culture, memory, health, altruism, and our day-to-day habits affect our well-being.

The emerging field of positive psychology is bursting with new findings that suggest your actions can have a significant effect on your happiness and satisfaction with life. Here are 10 scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.

1. Savor Everyday Moments
Pause now and then to smell a rose or watch children at play. Study participants who took time to “savor” ordinary events that they normally hurried through, or to think back on pleasant moments from their day, “showed significant=2 0increases in happiness and reductions in depression,” says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky.

2. Avoid Comparisons
While keeping up with the Joneses is part of American culture, comparing ourselves with others can be damaging to happiness and self-esteem. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, focusing on our own personal achievement leads to greater satisfaction, according to Lyubomirsky.

3. Put Money Low on the List
People who put money high on their priority list are more at risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, according to researchers Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan. Their findings hold true across nations and cultures. “The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there,” Ryan says. “The satisfaction has a short half-life -- it’s very fleeting.” Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization.

4. Have Meaningful Goals
“People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” say Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. “As humans, we actually require a sense of meaning to thrive.” Harvard’s resident happiness professor, Tal Ben-Shahar, agrees, “Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable.”

5. Take Initiative at Work
How happy you are at work depends in part on how much initiative you take. Researcher Amy Wrzesniewski says that when we express creativity, help others, suggest improvements, or do additional tasks on the job, we make our work more rewarding and feel more in control.

6. Make Friends, Treasure Family
Happier people tend to have good families, friends, and supportive relationships, say Diener and Biswas-Diener. But it’s not enough to be the life of the party if you’re surrounded by shallow acquaintances. “We don’t just need relationships, we need close ones” that involve understanding and caring.

7. Smile Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
It sounds simple, but it works. “Happy people…see possibilities, opportunities, and success. When they think of the future, they are optimistic, and when they review the past, they tend to savor the high points,” say Diener and Biswas-Diener. Even if you weren’t born looking at the glass as half-full, with practice, a positive outlook can become a habit.

8. Say Thank You Like [As If ] You Mean It
People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals, according to author Robert Emmons. Research by Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, revealed that people who write “gratitude letters” to someone who made a difference in their lives score higher on happiness, and lower on depression -- and the effect lasts for weeks.

9. Get Out and Exercise
A Duke University study shows that exercise may be just as effective as drugs in treating depression, without all the side effects and expense. Other research shows that in addition to health benefits, regular exercise offers a sense of accomplishment and opportunity for social interaction, releases feel-good endorphins, and boosts self-esteem.

10. Give It Away, Give It Away Now!
Make altruism and giving part of your life, and be purposeful about it. Researcher Stephen Post says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a “helper’s high,” and you get more health benefits than you would from exercise or quitting smoking. Listening to a friend, passing on your skills, celebrating others’ successes, and forgiveness also contribute to happiness, he says. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn found that those who spend money on others reported much greater happiness than those who spend it on themselves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The early history of the comma

From the Dec. 1 Message from the Rev. Martha N. Macgill, rector of Baltimore's Memorial Episcopal Church:

In Sunday's sermon, I took a page from English Grammar class---in particular, the comma.

It seems that the comma was first invented in 200 B.C. by Aristophanes of Bysantium, who was a librarian in Alexandria, Egypt. Aristophanes concocted a three-part system of dramatic notation advising actors when to breathe in preparation for their lines.

Indeed, the use of the comma down through the ages was to guide actors, chanters and readers through stretches of manuscript--indicating where to pause and accentuating matters of sense and sound.

The best quote about commas comes from Richard Mulcaster in 1582. Mulcaster wrote The First Part of the Elementarie, and in it he called the comma that "small crooked point, which in writing followeth some small branch of sentence, and in reading, warneth us to rest there and help our breath a little."

It seems to me that Advent is really the comma of the liturgical year. If we allow Advent to enter our hearts and minds this time of year, perhaps we can pause for a moment and catch our breath---in this one of the busiest seasons of the year.

Our readings in Advent encourage us to watch, to wait, to pause, to breathe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crenellated -- notch one up for indentations


adj 1: having repeated square indentations like those in a
battlement; "a crenelated molding" [syn: embattled,
crenelated, crenelate, crenellate, indented]

2: (of a building) having turrets and battlements in the style
of a castle [syn: battlemented, castellated, castled,

The Ruge Rule: Do not use a pronomial expression without an expressed and clearly recognizable antecedent.

Click here for the full Ruge Rules explanation of pronomial expressions and clearly recognizable antecedents.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Nail those pesky pronomial-expression-antecedent SAT questions

Unlike her sister Heather, who would always put spiders safely outside if she found them in the house, Joanne’s fear kept her from going anywhere near the creatures.

A. Joanne’s fear kept her from going anywhere near the creatures
B. Joanne’s fear is what kept her from going anywhere near the creatures
C. fear is why Joanne had not gone anywhere near them
D. Joanne was too afraid to go anywhere near the creatures
E. they scared Joanne too much to go anywhere near them

The SAT Writing Section seems to have lots of pesky pronomial expressions without expressed and clearly recognizable antecedents.

In the "error sentence" above, "Heather" is compared to "Joanne's fear."
In the first sentence below, "pianist" is20used as an introductory appositive to "Arthur Rubenstein's performance."
In the second sentence, the booths are being attracted by the banners.

1) An extraordinary pianist, Arthur Rubenstein's performance was enthusiastically applauded by his audiences, who always demanded encores.
N.B., Those crafty College Board people put one red herring answer that eliminates the initial problem but creates another pronoun without an antecedent (and also a missing comma and a little passive voice thrown in). Arthur Rubernstein's audience enthusiastically applauded his performance with encores always being demanded.
Corrected: Arthur Rubenstein was enthusiastically applauded by his audiences, who always demanded encores.

2) Attracted by the colorful banners, booths featuring various ethnic foods tempted the fair-goers.
Corrected: Attracted by the colorful banners, the fair-goers found the various ethnic foods featured in the booths tempting.

Once we are onto the "pesky pronomial expressions" game, these questions become fairly easy.
Ted Williams often said that, to get the good pitches he needed to hit .400, he had to have the discipline to leave the lousy pitches alone, earning many bases on balls when he'd rather have been swinging away. When pitchers realized the Splendid Splinter wouldn't swing at the bad balls, they gave him good balls to hit.
It's not an exact analogy, but when students sit down for the SAT, it's important for them to be disciplined about nailing the easy questions so it matters when they get the hard ones.

Tips on Freelancing

Click here to access a section from the Idiot's Guide to Getting Published.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another word for Thursday -- gormandizer

from www.wordsmith.org



MEANING: noun: A greedy person.

ETYMOLOGY: From French gourmandise (gluttony). Both a gourmand and a gourmet enjoy good food, but a gourmand is one who eats to excess while a gourmet is considered a connoisseur of good food.

USAGE: "Was his humble name to be bandied in men's mouths, as the gormandizer of the resources of the poor, as of one who had filched from the charity of other ages wealth which had been intended to relieve the old and the infirm."
-- Anthony Trollope; The Warden; 1855.


Note -- In a direct rebuke of GTOTD's promulgation of the like/as rule, the Knoxville News Sentinel on Saturday ran the headline atop its sports section "Just like [coach Bruce] Pearl planned on road."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Corpulent -- a good word for next Thursday

from www.wordsmith.org



MEANING: adjective: Large, bulky, fat.

ETYMOLOGY: From Latin corpus (body). Ultimately from the Indo-European root kwrep- (body, form) that is also the source of corps, corpse, corporation, corset, corsage, and leprechaun.
USAGE: "Mr. Barbecue-Smith was a short and corpulent man, with a very large head and no neck."Aldous Huxley; Crome Yellow; 1921.

Like and as -- one a preposition, the other a conjunction

"Tennessee junior Tyler Smith takes it all in stride, like one would expect from a veteran."
-- from the Knoxville News Sentinel, 11/20/08

Our local paper often uses the colloquial "like" as a preposition, much as it uses adjectives for adverbs, especially, but not always, in quotes. ("We play different.") This is probably to appear more accessible and friendly to its (ever-shrinking number of) readers, but in cases like the one above, it can be fairly jarring.

From Ruge Rules:
The Rule: Like is a preposition; as is a conjunction.
If the comparison is between two persons or things, use like.
If the comparison is between two ways of doing something or between two states or conditions, us as, as if, or just as.

Like me, he plays the piano. (We both play the piano.)

He plays the piano just as I do. (He plays the piano in the same manner that I do.)

Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy

A bit of humor from Andy Borowitz.

Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy
Stunning Break with Last Eight Years
By Andy Borowitz, The Borowitz Report

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it "alienating" to have a President who speaks English as if it were his first language.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the r isk of sounding like an elitist."

The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, the public may find itself saying, "Okay, subject, predicate, subject predicate - we get it, stop showing off."

The President-elect's stubborn insistence on using complete sentences has already attracted a rebuke from one of his harshest critics, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

"Talking with complete sentences there and also too talking in a way that ordinary Americans like Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder can't really do there, I think needing to do that isn't tapping into what Americans are needing also," she said.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The pesky absolute

" . . . But before our old soldier fades away, it is worth acknowledging that McCain ran a valiant race against impossible odds. He will be -- he should be -- remembered as the most worthy presidential nominee ever to be denied the prize."
-- from "The Campaign Autopsy" by Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, 11/7/08.

In the good old days, young reporters were advised to be careful about words like "first," "best," "most, "never" and "ever." These "absolute" statements are an open invitation to be proven wrong. As in --

  • Jackie Robinson was the first African-American ever to play Major League baseball. [He wasn't. There were some in the "pre-modern" era, so editors usually add "in the modern era."]
  • Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in the Americas. [Vikings actually lived in Newfoundland.]
  • Jim Brown was the best NFL player ever. [He may well have been. But most editors will put an "arguably" in there, lest they hear from fans of Johnny Unitas or other all-time greats.] It's a little more certain that Jim Brown was the greatest lacrosse player ever -- but we digress.
  • Chuck Berry was the father of rock and roll. [You're a lot safer to put ". . .one of the fathers of rock and roll." Jerry Lee Lewis might come and kick your ass. Who knows what Little Richard might do?]
  • - Bill Gates in the richest man on earth. [Warren Buffett passed him by this year, as did good ole' Carlos Slim HelĂș.]

As to the Krauthammer statement above, John McCain is a good guy, and no one [make that "few"] would argue with the statement that McCain is "one of the most worthy presidential nominees ever to be denied the prize."
But the statement as it is requires us to go back through the 50-odd elections in U.S. history. How worthy was Millard Fillmore's opponent?
Even if Krauthammer had added an "in recent history," you could start an argument with worthy fellows like Hubert Humphrey (who, like McCain couldn't overcome the burden of an unpopular incumbent in 1968 ) and Al Gore, "denied the prize" in 2000.

Wattle we say about a dewlap?

from www.wordsmith.org

dewlap (DOO-lap, DYOO-lap) noun
A loose fold of skin hanging under the neck of an animal such as a cow, rooster, lizard, etc. On birds, this appendage is also known as a wattle.
[From Middle English dewlappe; dew, of unknown origin and meaning + lap (fold).]

"Gore is rather more bearish than the last time I saw him, but still handsome, his leonine head beginning to soften with dewlaps, his fiercely intelligent eyes surrounded by innumerable wrinkles."
-- Erica Jong; Into the Lion's Den: Visiting Gore Vidal is No Small Undertaking; The Guardian (London, UK); Oct 26, 2000.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Parts of Speech in Verse

Nothing like a good mnemonic device.

The Nine Parts of Speech

Three little words you often see,
Are articles -- a, an, and the.
A noun's the name of anything
As school, garden, hoop, or swing.
An adjective tells the kind of noun --
Great, small, pretty, white, or brown.
Instead of nouns the pronouns stand --
Her head, his face, your arm, my hand.
Verbs tell of something to be done,
To read, sing, jump, or run.
How things are done the adverbs tell,
As slowly, quickly, ill, or well.
Conjunctions join words together,
As men and women, wind or weather.
The prepositions stands before
A noun, as at or through the door.
The interjection shows surprise,
As ah! how pretty --- Oh! how wise.
The whole are called nine parts of speech,
Which reading, writing, speaking teach.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Apostrophe Catastrophes

I think that I shall never see
Worse use of the apostrophe
Than greets me early every day,
As morning papers come my way.
-- Ahmad Anvari

Click here for more photos of apostrophe catastrophes.
Click here to visit the Hamilton College Writing Center lesson on avoiding the Fourth Deadly Sin of Bad Writing: misuse of the apostrophe.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chez, like casa -- at the home or business of...

chez (from www.wordsmith.org)


MEANING: At the place of. (for example, at the home of, business of, etc.)

ETYMOLOGY:From French chez, from Latin casa (cottage). The word is often used in the names of restaurants, for example, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.

"Then there was a debauched evening in Richmond chez Nicky Haslam, of which the less said the better."
-- Jessica Brinton; People Like Them; The Sunday Times (London, UK); Oct 26, 2008.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fix those unclear antecedents! (Win valuable prizes!)

As the two SAT Questions of the Day below demonstrate, the SAT grammar section throws various unclear antecedents at unsuspecting test-takers.
You really have to ask, "What in the heck is this clause or phrase truly modifying?" or "What does this pronoun refer back to?"
After the questions below is the "Pronoun Problems" section of the Hamilton College Writing Center's Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Writing.

Widely regarded as the greatest American chess player in history, Bobby Fischer’s prominence came as a child, winning the U.S. Open at the age of thirteen and becoming a grandmaster at age fifteen.

A. Bobby Fischer’s prominence came as
B. Bobby Fischer’s prominence came when he was
C. it was Bobby Fischer coming to prominence as
D. Bobby Fischer came to prominence as
E. his prominence came to Bobby Fischer as

Although campaign consultants have long known that scare tactics can win votes, only recently have psychologists and political scientists devised studies to find out whose votes they win and why.

A. they win
B. they can win
C. this wins
D. tactics like this wins
E. such tactics win

From Hamilton College's Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Writing:
The Sixth Deadly Sin: Pronoun Problems

Pronouns are useful as substitutes for nouns, but a poorly chosen pronoun can obscure the meaning of a sentence. Common pronoun errors include:

Unclear Pronoun Reference
A pronoun must refer to a specific noun (the antecedent).
Ambiguous pronoun reference creates confusing sentences.
Writers should spend time thinking about their arguments to make sure they are not superficial. (Unclear antecedent: who or what are superficial?)

A key difference between banking crises of today and of yesterday is that they have greater global impact. (Which crises have more impact?)

If a whiff of ambiguity exists, use a noun: A key difference between banking crises of today and yesterday is that today’s crises have greater global impact.

Vague Subject Pronoun
Pronouns such as it, there, and this often make weak subjects.
Pope Gregory VII forced Emperor Henry IV to wait three days in the snow at Canossa before granting him an audience. It was a symbolic act.
To what does it refer? Forcing the Emperor to wait? The waiting? The granting of the audience? The audience? The entire sentence?
Use a pronoun as subject only when its antecedent is crystal clear.

Agreement Error
A pronoun must agree in gender and number with its antecedent.
A common error is the use of the plural pronoun they to refer to a singular noun.
In the original state constitution, they allowed polygamy.
They (plural) refers to constitution (singular).
The original state constitution allowed polygamy.

It is often better to use a plural noun and pronoun than to use a singular noun and pronoun.
Note that indefinite pronouns such as each and everyone are singular.
Each student must meet his or her advisor. (correct but awkward)
Each student must meet with their advisor. (incorrect: singular noun, plural pronoun)
Students must meet with their advisors. (correct: plural noun and pronoun)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Did Election Day kill Edgar Allan Poe?

from wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Edgar_Allan_Poe --

The death of Edgar Allan Poe has remained mysterious: the circumstances leading up to it are uncertain and the cause of death is disputed.
On October 3, Election Day, 1849, Poe was found delirious outside Baltimore's Fourth Ward Polls at Ryan's Tavern, "in great distress."
He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died four days later. Poe was never coherent enough to explain how he came to be in this condition.
He was described as "repulsive", with unkempt hair, a haggard, unwashed face and "lusterless and vacant" eyes. It is believed the clothes he was wearing were not his own, not least because wearing shabby clothes was out of character for Poe.
It has been suggested that he was the victim of "cooping." This was a ballot-box-stuffing scam in which victims were shanghaied, drugged, and used as a pawn to vote for a political party at multiple locations.
As befitting Poe's literary legacy, no one knows for sure what killed him, although evidence exists to suggest that he might have been suffering from rabies.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mantra - straight from the Sanskrit

from www.wordsmith.org

mantra (MAN-truh) noun
1. A sound, word, or phrase that is repeated in prayer and is believed to have mystical powers.
2. An often repeated word or phrase that is closely associated with something; a slogan, byword, or a watchword.

[From Sanskrit mantra (thought, formula). Ultimately from Indo-European root men- (to think) which is the source of mind, mnemonic, mosaic, music, mentor, money, and mandarin.]

"These tips go beyond the 'test early and often' mantra and will improve your IT organization's testing capabilities."
-- Meridith Levinson; Testing, 1, 2, 3; CIO (Framingham, Massachusetts); Nov 15, 2005.

(Sanskrit is an ancient language of India and Hinduism.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Necromancy -- a good word for Halloween

from www.wordsmith.org
necromancy (NEK-ruh-man-see) noun

1. Divination by trying to communicate with the spirits of the dead.

2. Magic; sorcery; witchcraft.

[From Greek nekros (corpse) + -mancy (divination). Ultimately from Indo-European root nek- (death) that's also the source of nuisance,obnoxious, pernicious, innocent, innocuous, nectar, and nectarine.]

Before the word arrived in its current form, it was known as nigromantia in medieval Latin, from confusion of Greek nekro with Latin niger (black). Now you know why magic and sorcery are also known as the "black arts".

"A few years later, [Branaghstein] goes to university to study medical science, with a minor in necromancy."

-- Desson Howe; Creature Discomforts; The Washington Post; Nov 4, 1994.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Most obscure Fab Four trivia fact ever - Death Cab for Cutie

I did not realize that the world needed another Beatles biography until I picked up Can't Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould on the library "new books" shelf.
It is absolutely delightful, putting the ascent of the Fab Four into the context of the cultural and historical events and dissecting every song from a musical standpoint.
Gould is a drummer, musicologist, and fabulous writer, so he can explain that the opening chord of Hard Day's Night is a D-minor 11th and what that means (". . . as if a C-major triad were being played over a D-minor triad.")
We learn lots of the usual trivia (e.g., Linda McCartney’s motto in her high school yearbook was “Yen for Men"; and the band Decca signed instead of the Beatles was Brian Poole and the Tremeloes).
But one fact stands out as the most obscure bit of trivia ever -- namely, that the Bellingham, Washington, indie group Death Cab for Cutie gets its name from the title of a song performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the Beatles' not-so-great 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour.
This adds to the many details to be found in The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz, a wonderful book with 860 pages of text and another hundred pages of footnotes notes sourcing virtually every quote.

Generally, Spitz did as promised and wiped away the sins of Albert Goldman's mean-spirited John Lennon biography, and I was sorry when I reached page 860. I wanted more.

Among hundreds of bit of trivia, I learned that I was wrong in thinking that George had tried out for John Lennon's skiffle band by playing Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock." That was Paul. George played "Raunchy" for his audition.
I learned that Paul, in writing his song to comfort Julian Lennon (originally "Hey, Jules") got "Jude" from the sinister Rod Steiger character in Oklahoma!
And I'm embarrassed to say I never knew it was Ringo who says, "I got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of "Helter Skelter." (The group had implored the lovable Ringo to play as hard as he could to get the wild feeling of that song about a carnival ride, not knowing it would cause the Manson gang to go on a murder spree.)

Another thing about the Gould book -- I found only one error in the whole thing: at one point he incorrectly refers to the lyric "10,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire." But then just a few sentences later Gould correctly refers to "4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire."
This contrasts to a handful of errors to be found in the Spitz tome. One was that Jackie DeShannon didn't write "Needles and Pins" for the Searchers, as Spitz offhandedly says she did. The late U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche wrote that song.

Then there's the section about George's rising to a new level as a songsmith with "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," in which Spitz implies that George wrote "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby." That was Carl Perkins, whose songs the Beatles recorded or performed more of (7) than anyone other than Chuck Berry (9).

I guess a sin of omission falls in a different category. But, on page 499, Spitz quotes Peter Brown saying that George wrote "Something" about his wife, Pattie Boyd, and Eric Clapton wrote "Darling, You Look Beautiful [sic] Tonight" about her. But Spitz fails to mention that Clapton also wrote "Layla" about her.
Since Spitz mentions in a note at the bottom of that page that Donovan wrote "Jennifer Juniper" about Pattie's sister Jenny, I say this information is pertinent in placing these sisters in a special Pantheon of Super Muses.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In honor of Pedro Martinez: "Who's" and "Whose"

Right: "Who's interested in finding out whose books these are?"
Right: "Who's your Daddy?" chanted the crowd at Yankee Stadium when Pedro Martinez, then with the Red Sox, came on in relief.
Right: Whose team won the ACLS?

Like "your" and "you're" and "its and it's," "whose" and "who's" are misused every day, I guess because the apostrophe makes you think "possessive."

Anyway --

"Who's" is a contraction of "who is."
"Whose" is the possessive pronoun.

"You're" is a contraction of "you are."
"Your" is the possessive pronoun.

"It's" is a contraction of "it is."
"Its" is the possessive pronoun.

Click here a full discussion of the expression "Who's your daddy?"

Click here for photos of Yankees fans taunting Pedro.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parallelism: Use parallel structure to express matching ideas

SAT Question of the Day

The following sentence contains either a single error or no error at all. If the sentence contains an error, select the one underlined part that must be changed to make the sentence correct. If the sentence contains no error, select choice E.

Although not the
first animated feature film, Disney’s
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first animated film

to use up-to-the-minute techniques
as well as achieving widespread release.
No error

A. (A)
B. (B)
C. (C)
D. (D)
E. (E)

Parallelism : Use parallel structure to express matching ideas

Wrong: "The most important things in soccer are dribbling, passing and to know how to shoot."

The principle of parallelism in writing is simply that parts of a sentence performing the same logical function (i.e., doing the same work) must be of like construction.

So the sentence above should read: "The most important things in soccer are dribbling, passing and shooting." That way all the elements are gerunds, rather than one of them being an infinitive phrase.

This is in section 26 of Harbrace, Parallelism, which includes

26 Use parallel structure as an aid to coherence, and

26a For parallel structure, balance a word with a word, a phrase with a phrase, a clause with a clause, a sentence with a sentence.

There are several other excellent editing rules in this section, along with many useful exercises. Learning this principle is an easy way to pick up a few points in the writing/grammar section of the PSAT or new SAT , as in the opening question and the following one:

As a Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall
was known for his quest to end racial discrimination,
his opposition to the death penalty, and
he supported free speech and civil liberties.
No error


Monday, October 27, 2008

Internecine -- of internal struggles or fights to the death

"Things are so bad that the internecine warriors on the right have begun copying the rhetoric of the old left. In a Washington Times column this week upbraiding dissidents such as Brooks and Noonan, Tony Blankley, the conservative writer and activist, fell back on an old left slogan, asking them: 'Whose side are you on, comrade?' "
-- from a Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne Jr., Oct. 24, 2008

From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language:

(ntr-nsn, -n, -nsn) adj.
1. Of or relating to struggle within a nation, organization, or group.
2. Mutually destructive; ruinous or fatal to both sides.
3. Characterized by bloodshed or carnage.

Latin internecnus, destructive, variant of internecvus, from internecre, to slaughter : inter-, intensive pref.; see inter- + nex, nec-, death; see nek-1 in Indo-European roots.]

Word History:
When is a mistake not a mistake?
In language at least, the answer to this question is "When everyone adopts it," and on rare occasions, "When it's in the dictionary."
The word internecine presents a case in point. Today, it usually has the meaning "relating to internal struggle," but in its first recorded use in English, in 1663, it meant "fought to the death."
How it got from one sense to another is an interesting story in the history of English. The Latin source of the word, spelled both internecnus and internecvus, meant "fought to the death, murderous." It is a derivative of the verb necre, "to kill." The prefix inter- was here used not in the usual sense "between, mutual" but rather as an intensifier meaning "all the way, to the death."
This piece of knowledge was unknown to Samuel Johnson, however, when he was working on his great dictionary in the 18th century. He included internecine in his dictionary but misunderstood the prefix and defined the word as "endeavoring mutual destruction."
Johnson was not taken to task for this error. On the contrary, his dictionary was so popular and considered so authoritative that this error became widely adopted as correct usage. The error was further compounded when internecine acquired the sense "relating to internal struggle."
This story thus illustrates how dictionaries are often viewed as providing norms and how the ultimate arbiter in language, even for the dictionary itself, is popular usage.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

SAT Question of the Day -- subtle mind control?

As usual, the SAT Question of the Day below seems to be programming our youth. :-)

Choose the word or set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

The world, accustomed to ------- whenever governments change hands, expected rioting and bloodshed; but the transition of power was remarkably ------- .

A. turmoil . . chaotic
B. harmony . . orderly
C. ceremony . . solemn
D. violence . . uneventful
E. splendor . . unpopular

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flattery and sycophants

The SAT Question of the Day below reminds us of one of our favorite words -- sycophant -- and two of our favorite TV sycophants, Smithers and Eddie Haskell (right).

His inclination to succumb to flattery made him ------- to the ------- of people who wished to take advantage of him.

A. immune . . predilection
B. prejudicial . . intentions
C. susceptible . . cajolery
D. resistant . . blandishments
E. amenable . . rejection

sycophant n. a servile, self-seeking flatterer; a suck-up; a brown-nose; an a**-kisser
From the Greek word sykophantes and Latin word sycophanta for an informer or swindler.
Interesting that these words come down to us virtually unchanged over thousands of years. Perhaps sycophants have pretty much remained the same in different ages and cultures, so the word has remained the same as well.

The character Mr. Burns in The Simpsons would be lost without his trusty sycophant, Smithers.

sycophantic adj. of, relating to, or characteristic of a sycophant: fawning, obsequious

"Is that a new vacuum cleaner, Mrs. Cleaver?" asked the ever-sycophantic Eddie Haskell, adding, "Isn't it wonderful what they're doing with modern conveniences these days?"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The pronunciation of "elided"

The other evening on The News Hour, New York Times columnist David Brooks used the word "elided."
Having only read the word in memos from lawyers and never heard it spoken aloud before, I was surprised to hear that it has a long "i" (like "eye") and so is pronounced ee-LIE-dead.
elide [from the Latin elidere -- to strike out]
1a: to suppress or alter (as a vowel or syllable) by elision
b: to strile out (as a written word or passage)
2a: to leave out of consideration: omit
b: curtail, abridge

David Brooks is best known for coining the Red State/Blue State shorthand to describe the cultural rift between the urban/suburban, coastal/heartland, Pier One/Wal-Mart Americas.

A couple of years ago, Brooks used the word "elided" in a column in which he roundly roasted the writing abilities of a certain public figure up for a job that required clear and persuasive elucidation of ideas.

Wrote Brooks, "...the quality of thought doesn't even rise to the pedestrian [commonplace, unimaginative -- as in traveling on foot rather than riding in style]. .... I don't know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid [insipid, lifeless, boring] abstractions that mark [this person]'s prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided [omitted, curtailed or abridged]."

Many of us experience similar slams (in red pen, perhaps) in tough English classes. With luck, we lick our wounds and learn to write something approximating clear, concise, reasonably graceful English. The alternative is to risk the kind of humiliation that the public figure above endured in the op-ed pages of the Times.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tenderloin -- a district, not a cut of meat

from www.wordsmith.org

tenderloin (TEN-duhr-loin) noun
The part of a city notorious for vice and corruption.

[After a district in New York City known for vice, crime, corruption, extortion, graft, etc. It received its nickname from the choicest part of the meat, alluding to the luxurious diet of corrupt police members getting an easy income from bribes. Today, there are Tenderloin districts in other cities, particularly in San Francisco. Another metaphorical term with a similar connotation is"skid row," which has its origin in Seattle.]

"Forbidden from working, they moved in to a seedy residential hotel in the Tenderloin district as they waited for their application to be approved."
-- Joe Mullin; Refugees' Work; The Mercury News (San Jose, California); Jul 10, 2005.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Veni, vidi, vici -- Latin says, "I came, I saw, I'm still around."

From today's New York Times:


The resurgence of a language once rejected as outdated and irrelevant is reflected across the country as Latin is embraced by a new generation of students.

Above right: Mark McWilliams instructs discipuli (students) of Latin, including Sabrina Torres, left, and Daniela Aguilar, at Isaac E. Young Middle School in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Handy words for performance reviews

The Official SAT Question of the Day below provides us with several excellent adjectives for describing not-so-great behavior (and some verbs describing how one might respond).

Choose the word or set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

The store manager was ------- when sales dropped for the third year in a row; that was why she ------- our department for its lack of effort.

A. indolent . . intimidated
B. indignant . . upbraided
C. insolent . . exonerated
D. indulgent . . castigated
E. intolerant . . condoned

A tribute to a great copy editor

September 28, 2008\
Essay: What My Copy Editor Taught Me

"Helene had no literary theories — she had literary values: clarity, transparency, the skillful use of style.
". . . In musical terms, she had perfect pitch.
"Helene had no literary theories — she had literary values. She valued clarity and transparency. She had nothing against style, if it didn’t distract from the material. Her blue pencil struck at redundancy, at confusion, at authorial vanity, at the wrong and the false word, at the unearned conclusion. She loved good writing, therefore she loved the reader: good writing did not cause the reader to stumble over meaning. By the time Helene was finished with me seven years later, I knew how to read a sent ence and how to fix one. I knew what a sentence was supposed to do. . . . "

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fatuous choices in SAT Question of the Day

The Official SAT Question of the Day (TM) below presents a problem: a candidate in today's political arena using any of the choices below would risk being tagged as elitist!

Choose the word or set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

Since the two legislators had a long history of major disagreements, the senator considered his colleague’s enthusiastic assurances that they would be in agreement on a forthcoming piece of legislation -------.

A. fatuous
B. precious
C. sagacious
D. meritorious
E. ignoble

Carte blanche -- what Congress shouldn't have given last time, either

from www.wordsmith.org

carte blanche (kart blanch, kart blansh) noun
Unrestricted authority.
[From French carte blanche (blank card or blank document).]
"Stewart says he has been given a clean slate and carte blanche by the ADT's board 'to do my thing'."
--Carolyn Collins; New ADT Direction Paying Off; The Australian (Sydney); Jun 30, 2000.

Houston humor

This comes to us from Gail Canny.

You know you're from the Gulf Coast when….

1. You have FEMA's number on your speed dialer.
2. You have more than 300 'C' and 'D' batteries in your kitchen drawer.
3. Your pantry contains more than 20 cans of Spaghetti O's.
4. You are thinking of repainting your house to match the plywood covering your windows.
5. When describing your gutted house to a prospective buyer, you say it has three bedrooms, two baths and an open air feel to it.
6. Your SSN is written in Sharpie on your arms. [explanation for outsiders: Folks in mandatory evacuation areas who won't leave are asked by sheriff deputies to write their SSN on their arms with a marker so their bodies can be identified later. It is an attempt to scare them out of their homes in the face of the storms.]
7. You are on a first-name basis with the cashier at Home Depot.
8. You are delighted to pay $3.50 for a gallon of regular unleaded.=0 A
9. The road leading to your house has been declared a No-Wake Zone.
10. You decide that your patio furniture looks better on the bottom of the pool.
11. You own more than three large coolers.
12. You can wish that other people get hit by a hurricane and not feel the least bit guilty about it.
13. You rationalize helping a friend board up by thinking It'll only take a gallon of gas to get there and back
14. You=2 0have 2-liter coke bottles and milk jugs filled with water in your freezer.
15. Three months ago you couldn't hang a shower curtain; today you can assemble a portable generator by candlelight.
16. You catch a 13-pound red fish - in your house.
17. You can recite from memory whole portions of your homeowner's insurance policy.
18. You consider a vacation to stunning Tupelo, Mississippi.
19. At cocktail parties, women are attracted to the guy with the biggest chainsaw.
20. You have had tuna fish more than 5 days in a row.
21. There is a roll of tar paper in your garage.
22. You can rattle off the names of three or more meteorologists who work at the Weather Channel.
23. Someone comes to your door to tell you they found your roof.
24. Ice is a valid topic of conversation.
25. Your drive-thru meal consists of MRE's and bottled water.
26. Relocating to South Dakota does not seem like such a crazy idea.
27. You spend more time on your20roof than in your living room.
28. You've been laughed at over the phone by a roofer, fence builder or a tree worker.
29. A battery powered TV is considered a home entertainment center.
30. You don't worry about relatives wanting to visit during the summer.
31. Your child's first words are hunker down and you didn't go to Ole Miss!
32. Having a tree in your living room does not necessarily mean it's Christmas.
33. Toilet Paper is elevated to coin of the realm at the shelters.
34. You know the difference between the good side of a storm and the bad side.
35. Your kids start school in August and finish in July.
36. You go to work early and stay late just to enjoy the air conditioning.*
37. Your garage smells like gasoline.
38. Your more concerned about someone stealing your generator than your car.
39. You get excited when you see a Centerpoint truck in your neighborhood.
40. You get really excited when you see the cable guy.
41. You can create memorable meals with a can of SPAM and one gas burner.
42. You are prepared to wait in line at Starbucks for 2 hours to get a cup of coffee.

Subliminal suggestion in SAT Question of the Day?

For some reason, today's SAT Question of the Day seems vaguely topical to me, though I'm not sure why.

Choose the word or set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

His ------- prior experience notwithstanding, David was judged by the hiring manager to be ------- the job.

A. illustrious . . entitled to
B. limited . . qualified for
C. applicable . . assured of
D. useful . . overqualified for
E. irrelevant . . perplexed by

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Euphemisms -- a must to avoid

Rule No. 265 from Guide to Composition (1919) by Royster and Thompson :

As a rule, do not employ euphemism -- the softening or veiling of an expression to avoid the use of words that seem objectionable or coarse.

Say went to bed, not retired; leg not limb; died not passed away. Facts that are really vulgar or coarse may well be veiled under a euphemism, or left unsaid.


The red ink above is the hand of Ferdinand Ruge on a 1972 essay, "How I Spent My Summer."
In note (1) at the top, Mr. Ruge points out that "non-motivation" is "A euphemism for damned laziness."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Puns for all occasions

These puns came from Phil Perlman, credited to John Gordon.

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference.
He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out
to be an optical Aleutian.

3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra css because it
was a weapon of math disruption.

5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in
his work.

6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum

9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are
looking into it.

12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to
the other, 'You stay here, I'll go on a-head.'

14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'

16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When
his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said, 'No change

17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

18. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium,
at large.

19. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned

20. A backward poet writes in-verse.

21. In democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your
count that votes.

22. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

23. Don't join dangerous cults, practice safe sects!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ad lib -- doin' what comes extemporaneously

from www.wordsmith.org

ad lib (ad LIB) [From Latin ad libitum (at pleasure).]
  • noun Improvised speech or music.
  • verb tr. To perform music, speech, etc. spontaneously.
  • verb intr. To improvise.
  • adjective Improvised, impromptu.
"From delivery of scripted material to covering slip-ups to ad-libbing, Aznil is probably one of the few in the business who has a sixth sense, comedy wise."
-- Awards: Wide-skrin Disasters at Anugerah; Malay Mail (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Aug 28, 2003.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nick Lowery on Yelling at Refs

After Further Review
by Nick Lowery

Pete Koch, former #1 pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, a six year veteran of the NFL and personal trainer to Hollywood stars like Tobey Maguire, tells a story about coaches and rules that captures the one consistent theme about coaches and referees in sport, and their impact on young athletes: respect.

It was the era of All Pro Mark Gastineau, the record-setting pass-rushing star for the New York Jets (one of my former teams) during the famous “New York Sack Exchange” days. Sam Wyche, the Bengals’ head coach, had been telling his offensive line all week to do everything they could get away with to block Gastineau, “pushing it right to the edge. We really went after him, and here I was a rookie, and I hated it,” Koch remembers, with high/low double team blocks (illegal today) that would effectively cut the Jets All-World Defensive end down at (and to) his knees. The Bengals were cut blocking Gastineau all game, when a sweep took Gastineau near the Bengals’ sideline. “As he got up, Gastineau gets right up in Sam’s face and says loud and clear, ‘Listen to me, Sam, you %^&*?!$!! Quit that chicken s--- blocking or I’m going to come over and personally kick your butt in front of your whole team.’”

Koch says he never forgot how in that moment he lost respect for his coach’s cavalier attitude toward the rules. The same can be true for every coach who loses his cool in front of a referee.

“Youth Sports is about education and behavior”, says Dr John Eliot, Professor of Sports Ethics at Rice University. “Kids are more apt to model the behavior toward authority and referees that they see in their coaches. Yelling at umpires is not performance enhancing; it reinforces an improper response to a tough situation. (If you lose your cool) “you as the coach are demonstrating your inability to perform in a difficult situation. You have a teaching opportunity: one of the prime lessons of sport,” says Eliot, “by modeling how you handle disagreements and incorrect calls.” Because they happen. We all know that.

Hall of Fame NFL coach Marv Levy says, “Officials make mistakes. So do coaches. So do players.” Levy says he made it a point to know the names of the referees. “Know who they are, meet them before the game, and treat them with respect. If you have a discussion before the game with that respectful manner, you are more likely to be able to have a respectful discussion during the game.” But it’s not easy. The refs always knew that Marv respected them even when he had, like we all do, his more colorful moments (watch NFL Highlights some time!).

Tri City Christian’s Baseball coach Ken Bouchard says, “I treat refs as human beings. I usually don’t question the small stuff. The biggest thing is you are an ambassador for your team. The umpire can be your best friend if you treat them with respect.”

Brooks Clark, a veteran youth coach in Tennessee and former writer for Sports Illustrated, says, “Yelling at referees is like yelling at waiters…they can’t yell back, and they’re paid to take it. Its really about development for all of us, not just our kids.“ Clark mentioned David Cutcliffe, who coached both Eli and Peyton Manning in college, about the role his father, NFL legend Archie Manning, played in their development. “He’s the parent who knew the most, and said the least.” Silence sometimes teaches more than words.

Dr Eliot gave three things to do when the ref makes a questionable call:
Take a pause: collect your thoughts and take a breath. If you are walking to the mound, take your time!
Be diplomatic and deliberate with your questions: plan ahead so your questions help create the right tone of respect.
Take time to help your players refocus on the next play: explain “here’s what we will do to handle this.”
As legendary NFL Referee Jim Tunney says, “I didn’t mind them disagreeing with my calls: the coach’s job is to be biased. From Lombardi, to Landry, to Shula, to Walsh, to Madden, the great coaches all understood that the officials are there to do the best job they can.”

It’s ok for coaches to question calls. Just remember that your players will do nothing at that moment but watch what you do.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Jonathan Yardley pays tribute to "The Elements of Style"

A 'Little Book' Bursting With The Write Ideas

By Jonathan Yardley

Saturday, September 6, 2008

An occasional series in which The Washington Post's book critic reconsiders notable and/or neglected books from the past.

One of the never-ending frustrations of my otherwise enjoyable half-century newspaper career has been what newspapers call "style."

Newspapers have many good qualities, but "style" most certainly is not among them.

Newspaper "style" consists mainly of ungrammatical, unlovely attempts to compress as much information as possible into as little space as possible.

Thus, instead of the elegant "Senator Nonesuch, Republican of Transylvania," we are required to write, "Sen. Nonesuch (R-Tr.)"; instead of "Rockville, Maryland," we must suffer with "Rockville, Md."; and poor "William Strunk, Jr.," must sacrifice his comma and become "William Strunk Jr."

To continue reading, click here.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The bard of the Yukon

One great disappointment of the past several days is that we haven't heard a single funny line or reference to Robert W. Service (1874-1958), the bard of the Yukon and, most pertinent, Ronald Reagan's favorite poet.
Two of Service's most wonderful poems are "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew"
We can only assume that we'll see an adequate topical parody of one of the above in the next few days. Perhaps the Grammar Tip of the Day will come up with one.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dominic Seiterle ’98 Wins Gold in the Canadian Eight

Click here to read this story, with cool pictures, on the Dartmouth Alumni Website.

by Brooks Clark

The Canadian men’s heavyweight eight had a plan for their final in Beijing: Get out ahead and set a pace so fast that none of the other crews could stay with them.

“We were world champions the year before,” says Dominic Seiterle. “We were faster than in 2007 and had a lot more training under our belt.”

Coach Mike Spracklen had trained them not just to be able to win on a good day, when things went right. Says Seiterle, “We wanted to train to the point that if everything was to go wrong, we’d still come out on top.”

“[Coxswain] Brian [Price] called the race the way we discussed and he got us moving when he needed to.” They started out for the first two minutes at a stroke rate well above 40 strokes per minute. As they moved forward on the Great Britain boat – with Josh West (Yale ’98) in the 5 seat – Price called out the seats of as he drew even with each one.

“He was calling seat distances,” says Seiterle. “ ‘We have a seat! ....a half a seat! two seats!’ ” says Seiterle. “Then he said, ‘We have Josh West!’”

Says Price, “He’s the only guy in the boat I know the name of to say, that big 6’,7” guy.”

“I’m very simplistic,” says Seiterle, chuckling, “especially when rowing. I know Josh, but I don’t follow the other teams and I have no idea what seat he rows. I’m a numbers guy. Hearing the name didn’t help me much. So I’m thinking, ‘Where are we? Are we losing? Winning? What?’ ”

“We attacked each call that Brian made,” says Seiterle. “I remember him saying, ‘This hurts but we’re moving well.’ ”

Following the race plan, the Canadians never dropped below 38½ strokes per minute. Says Seiterle, “Some of the guys said that a minute in, they knew we were going to win.”

But Seiterle wasn’t so sure: “There’s always something that goes a little wrong. In the third 500 meters, I felt a bit of a bobble to starboard. There was a little bit of fear.”

With 20 or 30 meters to go, up by more than a second on the British and Americans, Price said, “We are Olympic Gold Medalists.”

“I’m the conservative guy in the boat,” says Seiterle. “I’m thinking, ‘Don’t say that yet! We’ve got two or three strokes to go.’ As we went over the line, two or three of the guys had their hands up. I couldn’t really hear the horn, so I took or three more strokes, just in case.”

Their time was 5 minutes, 23.89 seconds. The British got silver in 5:25.11. The Americans, gold medalists at the 2004 Athens Games, took bronze in 5:25.34, just .23 seconds behind the British.

For Seiterle, 32, the Olympic Gold was the climax of an unlikely return to international competition after a seven-year hiatus.

Born in Montreal, Seiterle moved with his family to San Antonio, Texas, when he was 4. He took up rowing at Saint Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware, (where the movie The Dead Poet’s Society had been filmed). Dominic chose St. Andrew’s in part because of its outdoor programs and field sciences. “They had 2,500 acres and plenty of places to hike and walk around,” he says. “I would sit with a camera outside a fox den for hours. Other times I’d watch bald eagles coming down for fish.”

His interest in the outdoors made Dartmouth a natural choice. A Psychology and Environmental Studies major, he loved Moosilauke and the Outing Club.

The summer before his senior year, Seiterle was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Remarkably, even after his thyroidectomy and radiation treatments, he was able to captain the heavyweight crew at the Head of the Charles that fall and for the rest of the year.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he placed 13th in a double with Todd Hallett, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

In Victoria, B.C., where the Canadian team trains, Seiderle got to know one of Todd’s neighbors, Claire Miller. On her wedding day in 2001, Claire introduced Dominic to her twin sister, Laura. Dominic and Laura, a special ed teacher, were married four years later.

In 2002, he took a year off from rowing to start his MBA at the University of Rochester. (In 2003 he rowed 80 miles across Lake Ontario – from Rochester, N.Y., to Kingston, Ont. – to raise money for the James Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester and the Ontario’s Camp Trillium Childhood Cancer Support Centre.)

The next year he was in the national team pair heading to the World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, the warm-up for the 2004 Olympics. “Then I came down with a fluky blood infection that kept me on an I-V for four weeks.” It took him seven months to get back in condition, and he missed his chance for the Games in Athens.

After finishing his MBA in 2005, Seiterle was back in Victoria, training on his own, in his single.

As it happened, around that time Coach Mike Spracklen was thinking about fortifying his national men’s eight with some horsepower. Favorites in Athens, the Canadian boat, a smaller crew that relied on technique and toughness, had fallen behind in the final and come undone, finishing fifth. The heartbreak left team members weeping on the dock. After the boat disappointed again at the 2006 World Championships, Spracklen was looking for answers.

One day in February 2007, Spracklen called and said he needed a sub. He asked Seiterle which side he preferred to row. Seiterle had fallen down the stairs of his apartment two days before and was sore in his right shoulder, so he said, “I’d probably feel more comfortable on port.” Spracklen said, “I’m pretty sure you were rowing starboard the last time I saw you.” Still, thinking of his shoulder, Seiderle said he’d prefer port. “And it stuck,” he says today.

Seiterle hadn’t been in a sweep boat for two years, but Spracklen must have liked what he saw. A few weeks later he said, “Would you consider being in the 8?”

At 6’4”, 205 pounds and one of the stronger rowers, Seiderle took the 6 seat, in front of 6’7”, 220-pound Malcolm Howard (Harvard ’05) in what is known in rowing as the Engine Room.

“Where I might be lacking some in the technical area,” says Seiderle, “I’m able to pull my weight.”

Like golfers with their swings, oarsmen are always striving to find the perfect stroke.

“It never feels as good as it looks,” says Seiterle, who says he sometimes dips his hands at the catch, perhaps a half-inch, sending the blade in the air before it drops in the water. Two years ago it might have been 1½ inches, so I improved, but I still wasn’t going right in, with no dip at all.” He was also working on his finish—the never-ending challenge of holding the oar in the water, maintaining pressure on the blade until the last instant, before extracting it cleanly.

The emphasis in Sprachen’s training was to train long and hard enough to be able to win on a bad day. “We did double the load from what we were doing in 2000,” says Seiterle, “It’s going to where you can’t go any further, and then going further than that, and then going even further than that. It’s teaching your mind that when it thinks you can’t go any further, it really can. It’s teaching your body that no matter how much it hurts, no matter what injury you’ve got here or there, you’re nowhere close to death, and you can give a little more.”

“You do most of your training in smaller boats – in pairs—because it keeps the competition level. There are no free rides. You can’t take a stroke off because everyone will pass you. There are always mental games people play, no matter how disciplined they are. So keeping up the competition keeps up the intensity level.”

When the Canadian boat won the 2007 world championships in Munich, Germany, it put them up against a jinx: in 35 years, no heavyweight crew had been able to follow up a world championship with Olympic gold, a measure of how fierce the competition is at the international level.

The 2007 world championships also brought the birth of Maximilian Seiterle. “It was all good,” says Laura, of her spouse being away during the delivery. “Women in the military do it all the time.”

And then there was Beijing and the Gold. “It’s a great feeling,” says Seiterle. “It’s taken a long time, but it’s worth it.”

Back home in Victoria, Seiterle is settling in and prepared to go to work full-time in marketing communications in the human resources area of the British Columbia Provincial Government. Says Seiterle, “I told Laura, who’s been supporting me all this time, if there’s anything she wants to do – go to graduate school, take a trip – it’s her time.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m retired [from competitive rowing],” he says, though he will continue to get out on the water. “It’s been too much a part of my life for too long. I don’t understand people who say they’re never getting back in a boat.”

In the first days after the Olympics, when he went out in his single, he was greeted by at least a dozen well wishers wanting to hear about the triumph. “If I wait a week or so, it may die down,” he says. “It’s my 15 minutes of fame.”