Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Without which not -- sine qua non

sine qua non (SY-nee kway NON) noun
An indispensable condition; prerequisite. [Latin sine qua non (without which not).]

"Of course, the mastery of language is not the sine qua non of competence in literacy. But ease in communication in the language shows how one's cognitive abilities have developed."
-- Kenendy Buhere; Proposal to Split TSC Ill-thought; The Kenya Times (Nairobi); Jan 19, 2007.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The number of the subject determines the number of the verb

Strunk & White's Elementary Rule of Usage No. 9: The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.
Words that intervene between subject and verb do not affect the number of the verb.

NO The bittersweet flavor of youth--its trials, its joys, its adventures, its challenges--are not soon forgotten.

YES The bittersweet flavor of youth--its trials, its joys, its adventures, its challenges--is not soon forgotten.

Try this SAT Question of the Day:

One of Francisco Goya’s
portraits of Carlos II
show the king in hunting attire,
with a rifle in his left hand,
gloves in his right, and a hunting dog
asleep at his feet.
No error

Monday, April 28, 2008

chimera -- a she-goat turned into illusion

chimera (ki-MEER-uh, ky-) noun
1. A fanciful fabrication; illusion.
2. An organism having genetically different tissues.

[After Chimera, a fire-breathing female monster in Greek mythology who had a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. From Greek khimaira (she-goat), ultimately from the Indo-European root ghei- (winter) that is the ancestor of words such as chimera (literally a female animal that is one winter, or one year old), hibernate, and the Himalayas, from Sanskrit him (snow) + alaya (abode).]

"The government subsidies [for bio-fuel] may quickly dry up once policymakers face up to the reality of their euphoric chimera, and food shortages threaten political stability and national security."
-- Abdullah A. Dewan; Fuel Versus Food; The Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh); Apr 24, 2008.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Subordination and Coordination

Harbrace Chapter 24 : Subordination and Coordination

Use subordination to relate ideas concisely and effectively.
Use coordination (that is, giving ideas equal structural rank) to give ideas equal emphasis.

24a Use subordination to combine a series of short sentences into longer, more effective units. The idea is to place emphasis on the most important part of the sentence.

Example: I was bored. I went to the movies. I discovered that Johnny Depp makes a funny pirate.

Because I was bored, I went to the movies, where I discovered that Johnny Depp makes a funny pirate.

[Note that those who prefer Hemingway-esque shorter sentences could put a period after movies and start the next sentence with "There I discovered...."]

24a (1), (2), (3) and (4) offer handy tips on subordinating, such as using adjectives and adjective phrases, adverbs and adverb phrases, appositives and contrasting elements, and subordinate clauses.

24b(3) offers and important caveat: Subordinate and coordinate clauses logically. Avoid making faulty connections between two ideas.

FAULTY Chen was only a substitute pitcher, winning half of his games.
BETTER Although Chen was only a substitute pitcher, he won half his games. [Although establishes the relationship between the ideas.]

[Note: This last idea definitely appears in the PSAT and SAT grammar sections, but if you're not on the lookout for it, you can easily miss it.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A dapper word -- sartorial


sartorial (sar-TOR-ee-uhl) adjective
Related to a tailor or tailored clothes. [From Late Latin sartor, tailor.]

Today's word has a cousin, sartorius, a long narrow muscle in the leg, the longest muscle in humans. What would tailored clothes have in common with a muscle of the leg? Sartorius is so named since it is concerned with producing the cross-legged position of tailors at work.

"The dignified Muganda man will appear at formal occasions dressed in a kanzu, the long, white robe introduced by the Arabs at about the same time the European missionaries were arriving with their own sartorial ideas."
-- John Matshikiza; Uganda Lives With The Old And New; The Daily Mail & Guardian (South Africa); Apr 7, 2000.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who has the floor? (He or she who best knows Robert's Rules of Order)

From Robert's Rules of Order:

Part I. Rules of Order; Article I. Introduction of Business; Section 2. Obtaining the Floor:

Before you can make a motion or address the assembly on any matter, you have to "obtain the floor." This means that you have to stand up (in a formal setting) and address the presiding officer (referred to as the "chair" in this book by his or her title, for example:
Madam President
Mr. Chairman
The chair will then recognize you by announcing your name or (if not known) by nodding in your direction:
The chair recognizes Ms. Davis.
But if the chair rises to speak before you obtain the floor, you must take your seat for the time being (see Section 36).
If you're conducting the meeting, it's up to you to recognize the member trying to get your attention. But what if two or more persons stand up at the same time? . . .


General H.M. Robert assembled the rules of Parliamentary practice in 1876, and they are still with us. Those who know Robert's Rules of Order have a huge advantage in steering organizations and boards toward conducting their business meetings effectively.

Likewise, members of Congress who learn every article and codicil of the Rules of the House and the Rules of the Senate (which differ from each other) have a similar advantage.
In Herding Cats: A Memoir of a Life in Politics, Trent Lott mentions many instances in which his total command of House and Senate procedures helped him win him political victories.

Profile of UT Offensive Coordinator David Clawson

His heart in the game, UT's Clawson sticks with coaching
By Brooks Clark, Monday, April 21, 2008

At right, Dave Clawson speaks to the media after being introduced by UT head coach Phillip Fulmer as his new offensive coordinator. (photo by Clay Owen/Business Journal)

At 26, Dave Clawson stood at a crossroads of his life. After his second season as quarterbacks coach at the University of Buffalo in 1992, he and most of the coaching staff had been purged. He was working for a friend, waiting tables at The Cooker Bar & Grill in Columbus, Ohio, for $2 an hour plus tips.

Read more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Goody Two-shoes -- the smugly virtuous

goody two-shoes (GOOD-ee TOO-shooz) noun

A smugly virtuous person.

[After the title character in The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, a children's book from 1765 believed to have been written by Oliver Goldsmith.]

In this moralistic nursery tale, Margery Meanwell is a poor orphan who has only one shoe. One day, when she gets the full pair, she runs about shouting, "Two shoes!" Eventually she becomes rich and educated through her virtue and hard work.

The word goody was a polite term of address for a woman of humble social status. It's a contraction of the word goodwife and was formerly used as a title in a manner similar to the current Mrs.

Monday, April 21, 2008

When to capitalize titles and "Mother"

Harbrace 9b: Capitalize titles of persons that precede the name but not those that follow it.

Governor Ann Richards, Captain Machado, Uncle Verne
Ann, Richards, the governor; Machado, our captain; Verne, my uncle

Words denoting family relationships are usually capitalized when serving as substitutes for proper nouns:
Tell Mother I'll write soon. [Compare: My mother wants me to write.]

Additional note:
The AP stylebook agrees with capitalizing titles before names but tells us to lower case job descriptions. That's why it's Coach Bobby Knight but centerfielder Mookie Wilson.
(Yes, according to my old Sports Illustrated stylebook in its black ring binder, the position is written as one word, "centerfielder," but the area is written as two words, "center field." Oh, yes, and although positions in the field are lower cased, the coach at a position isn't, as in Third Base Coach Don Zimmer.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

More fun with malapropisms

Not sure if it's incorrect, but here is some interesting phraseology from a recent Knoxville News Sentinel about UT guard Chris Lofton:
"Lofton, who suffered an injured left foot in the Vols' win over Butler on Sunday, went through the Vols' 50-minute public practice session at Bobcats Arena without showing any favoritism to the foot."
Usually, we'd say Lofton didn't seem to be favoring his foot.

Headline from an earlier News Sentinel: Conservative groups rally to save Appalachian Tract.
Actually, the story was about "conservation" groups rallying to save a 10,000-acre tract of mountain land from residential development. Maybe the conservative groups would like to join in!

Sign at a restaurant: Credit Cards Excepted.

A billboard on I-24 touts a "Complementary Breakfast" offered at a Holiday Inn.
Perhaps this is intended to convey that the breakfast "complements" the room---that is, to complete or make perfect an otherwise pedestrian Holiday Inn experience. More likely, though, the word Holiday Inn was searching for is "complimentary," meaning "given free as a courtesy or favor."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Use 'whom' for pronouns used as objects in formal written English

Despite persistent reports to the contrary, this one is still with us:

Harbrace 5c: Use whom for all pronouns used as objects in formal written English.

For example, use whom as the object of the verb or preposition in formal written English.

NOT They voted for the person who they trusted.
USE They voted for the person whom they trusted. [object of the verb trusted]

NOT He is unsure who the message was intended for.
USE He is unsure whom the message was intended for. [object of the preposition for]

In subordinate clauses, use whom as the object of the verb or preposition.

NOT Richard told David who to call. Richard told David to call who? .
USE Richard told David whom to call. Richard told David to call whom? [object of the infinitive to call]

NOT The artist who she loved has gone away.
USE The artist whom she loved has gone away. [object of the verb loved in the relative clause whom she loved.]

NOT This is a friend who I write to once a year.
USE This is a friend whom I write to once a year. [object of the preposition to in the relative clause]

Whom may be omitted (or that subtituted) in sentences where no misunderstanding would result.

The friend he relied on moved away.
This is a person I try to avoid.

Note: In informal English, the pronoun who is commonly used when it occurs as the first word in the sentence, even when it is the object of a verb or preposition. As always, consider your audience.

Who do you want? Who is the gift for?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

auto-da-fé -- no one expects the Portuguese Inquisition!

From Maureen Dowd's column in this morning's New York Times:

"Even though Democratic elders worry that the two candidates will terminally bloody each other, they each seem to be lighting their own autos-da-fé."

auto-da-fé noun (pl. autos-da-fé) [from the Portuguese auto-da-fé, meaning "act of faith"] the ceremony accompanying the pronouncement of judgment by the Inquisition and followed by the execution of a sentence by the secular authorities; broadly: the burning of a heretic

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Harbrace Rule No. 1 & Mr. Ruge's Big Three

Harbrace Chapter 1 : Sentence Sense, begins with the rule: To think more clearly and write more effectively, understand how sentences work.

Writing a clear, precise sentence is an art, says Harbrace, and you can master that art by developing your awareness of what makes sentences work.

In Ferdinand E. Ruge's mimeographed class notes, he stated this as, "Every sentence must lend itself to logical analysis. In other words, every sentence gotta make sense!"

Mr. Ruge was a legendary English teacher at my high school. More Patton than Mr. Chips, he was an octogenarian in 1972 but as devoted as ever to teaching his students to write "clear, concise, reasonably graceful" English. Mr. Ruge referred to the dictionary as "the Good Book." He marked errors in papers with Harbrace rule numbers and taught from his own parallel set of "class notes," which he wrote in longhand on mimeograph pages and "ran off" for the class. These were assembled posthumously by the great Paul Piazza in a pithy volume, Ruge Rules.

Mr. Ruge's Big Three
More than once, Mr. Ruge posed some variation of the following question: "If a little green man from Mars came down to earth in a flying saucer and asked you for the three most important rules of English grammar, what would you tell him?"

With the index, middle and ring fingers of his left hand shooting up on cue, Mr. Ruge would provide his answer, like a voice from the Old Testament:
"1- Place a period at the end of each complete thought.
2- Set off non-restrictive phrases and clauses in commas, and
3- Place a hyphen between two or more words used together as a single adjective before a noun."
There may be more important rules of grammar, but 36 years later, my classmates and I certainly know Mr. Ruge's top three.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Look up and behold -- the firmament


firmament (FUR-muh-ment) noun
The sky; the heavens.

[From Latin firmamentum (sky) from firmare (to support). Ultimately from the Indo-European root dher- (to hold firmly or support) that is also the source of firm, affirm, confirm, farm, and fermata.]

"The brightest stars in the goss-mag firmament have fallen cripplingly to earth."
-- Jacqueline Maley; What the Gossip Mags Say; The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Jan 11, 2005.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cortright Earns Congressional Award Gold Medal

By Christopher Falvo
April 3, 2008
Darien News-Review (CT)

Awards and honors are usually bestowed upon individuals who go above and beyond the expectations of society to lend a hand to persons in need, to excel athletically or academically, or to help blaze new trails. However, for some people these endeavors are part of their daily life.

Emily Cortright, a junior at Darien High School, fits the bill of the latter. Cortright recently earned The Congressional Award Gold Medal for achievements the 17-year-old completed across the past four years of her life. Cortright will be honored, along with other recipients from across the nation in a June 19 ceremony on Capitol Hill.

When Cortright first became aware of the awards program she jumped at the opportunity, because she was already involved in many endeavors that could help catapult her to being honored.

"A lot of the things I like to do I did for the Congressional Medal and I'm just continuing them now," Cortright said.

However, it was the other experiences along the way that helped break a shy girl out of her shell, create a stronger bond between father and daughter and create a sense of reward not many teenagers could feel without helping those in far less fortunate situations than their own.
Cortright became involved with theater, hiking -- which she did mainly with her father -- the debate team and volunteering. A softball player since kindergarten, Cortright took up squash, which she plays at the club level for DHS.

The Congressional Award National Board of Directors (CANBD) chooses recipients for its Congressional Award program based on "achievements in personal development, physical fitness and expeditions/exploration." The award program focuses on 14- to 23-year-olds and those who work with youth. The Congressional Award program was established in 1979 as a private, nonprofit and tax-exempt organization.

Candidates must first outline their goals for the board and then log in a journal their objectives as they complete them over a four-year period.

The CANBD established six levels of recognition for its candidates: The Congressional Award Certificate in bronze, silver and gold; and The Congressional Award Medal in bronze, silver and gold.

Cortright was bestowed the board's highest honor for the work she has completed since she started this venture at age 13.

"I was really excited," Cortright said of being selected. "It was a lot of work I put a lot of effort into it and I put a lot of effort into the write-up."

Maybe the most rewarding endeavor Cortright undertook was a trip to Louisiana, where she helped rebuild homes of families affected by Hurricane Rita.

"We decided to go and help victims of Rita, because it got so much less attention, even though it was pretty damaging," said Cortright, who took the trip with members of her church, The First Congregational Church of Darien.

Cortright helped spackle, drywall and paint a house, tasks she admitted she had never done before.

"I don't know how well it actually turned out, but we worked really hard on that house," she said.
Chasing the Congressional Award Medal also helped Cortright forge a new bond with her father, Richard. Over the four years, the two went on three expeditions together.
First, they hiked 17 miles of the Appalachian Trail in a three-day span. They also used a boat to explore a state park and created maps using a GPS for the Rail-to-Trails initiative, which helps turn abandon railroad tracks into hiking and bike trails.

"It was good bonding," Cortright said. "I really like hiking with my dad. It was a good 17 miles worth of chatting."

Cortright's mother, Elizabeth, also got involved by teaching her daughter how to sew and knit. Cortright then took her newfound knowledge and knitted scarves for the Darien Library Knit-a-thon, which bene­fited the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. She also helped knit 50 afghan squares for the Warm-Up America Foundation.

Cortright also used this opportunity to shed her reserved nature, by auditioning for plays and landing a role in "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical comedy.

"It was fun. I think it was on of the best things I did," Cortright said. "It kind of forced me to talk to people I never talked to before I think it made me a little more comfortable."

Cortright was also on the debate team freshman year. She is currently a part of Nutmeg Express at the high school and is on the executive board at The First Congregational Church.

(c) 2008 Darien News-Review. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.

Use the strong active versus weak passive voice

From Hamilton College's Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Writing:

The First Deadly Sin: Passive Voice

In most instances, put the verb in the active voice rather than in the passive voice.
Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. In contrast, active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action.
Passive voice often produces unclear, wordy sentences, whereas active voice produces generally clearer, more concise sentences.
To change a sentence from passive to active voice, determine who or what performs the action, and use that person or thing as the subject of the sentence.

Passive voice: On April 19, 1775, arms were seized at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.
Active voice:On April 19, 1775, British soldiers seized arms at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.

Other examples of passive voice:
1. The process of modernization in any society is seen as a positive change.
2. The Count is presented as an honest, likeable character.
3. Thomas Jefferson's support of the new Constitution was documented in a letter to James Madison.

Overuse of to be (a related problem)
Use of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) leads to wordiness. Use an action verb in place of a form of to be.
Example: It is the combination of these two elements that makes the argument weak.
Revision: The combination of these two elements weakens the argument.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Collective nouns -- nobody can get them right

From today's Knoxville News Sentinel:

"Farragut's 16 [National Merit] finalists is the most at any high school in Tennessee, said Donna Wright, the school system's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction."

We hope Ms. Wright actually said "are."

Presumably the Sentinel copy desk is viewing that corps of 16 smart Farragutniks as a single unit, which they plainly aren't at all.

Here's another one, from "Lincoln's language and its legacy" by Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker: "In the past twenty-five years, and particularly since the publication of Garry Wills’s 'Lincoln at Gettysburg' (1992), language and its uses has become a central Lincoln subject."

Perhaps the single predicate nominative (a central Lincoln subject) somehow turns "language and its uses" into a single subject. (I just made that up.) But it sure looks weird to me.

Here's one from the News Sentinel sports section a couple of years ago: "Most of UT's signees will not get a full summer of extra work as the vast majority is scheduled to enroll in July as UT's second summer sesson begins."

Surely this sentence is referring to the majority of signees as individuals, which would therefore warrant a plural verb.

After previous GTOTDs about collective nouns, an assistant headmaster at a prestigious school wrote back: "This issue is perhaps the toughest I face. Appreciate your help, but I still don't get it from these examples, and I've never really gotten it. I've seen a million examples of, 'The orchestra is late for the concert,' vs. 'The orchestra are packing up their instruments,' but I've never had a really satisfactory answer."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pusillanimous -- like Agnew's pussyfooters


pusillanimous (pyoo-suh-LAN-uh-muhs) adjective [From Latin pusillus (weak, very small), diminutive of pullus (young of an animal) + animus (spirit, mind).]
Lacking courage; timid.

"Although the admonitory title and scarlet cover of Erik Durschmied's Beware the Dragon is designed to chill the blood of pusillanimous Europeans and Americans already anxious about the rise of China, the book itself is a war correspondent's take on the past, not the future."
-- Victor Mallet; The Rebalance of Power; The Financial Times (London, UK);
Apr 5 2008.

And who can forget former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's references to critics of Nixon's Vietnam policy as "pusillanimous pussyfooters" [written by Pat Buchanan] and "nattering nabobs of negativism" [written by William Safire].

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Another SAT parallelism question

The SAT grammar test has lots of questions involving agreement, fuzzy antecedents, inexact words, and parallelism.
In our quest for low-hanging fruit on the SAT, some of the easier apples to pluck are in that last category (as below), because they are based on such a clear rule -- No. 19 in The Elements of Style: Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

When people gave up the hunter-gatherer way
of life and began to cultivate the soil
and grow their food, they often
became less mobile , built more substantial residences, and
they developed
more effective means of storage.
No error


Monday, April 7, 2008

Present participles representing actions simultaneous to main verbs

Some time ago my co-worker Mike Harris came upon his mother-in-law's 1919 grammar text, Guide to Composition by James Finch Royster, Ph.D, Kenan Professor of English, University of North Carolina, and Stith Thompson, Ph.D, Professor of English in [sic] Colorado College. This slim, pocket-sized hardback contains 283 points of composition to delight and tantalize the grammarian.

Here is Royster and Thompson's No. 225:

Do not use a present participle unless it represents action of the same time as that of the main verb.


(1) He entered the university in 1911, finishing in 1915.

(1) He entered the university in 1911 and finished in 1915.

(2) He was an old man now, being born before the Civil War.

(2) He was an old man now, having been born before the Civil War.

Note 1. -- A syntactical defense of the not uncommon construction seen in "He entered the university in 1911, finishing in 1915" has been proposed by assuming that the present participle finishing is not adjectival, but that it is a predicate, coordinate with entered. If this is true, we have a loosely articulated sentence -- two coordinate ideas expressed by verb forms of unequal rank.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Allright already! More Yiddish -- a schlump and a schnook


schlump (shlump) noun A dull or slovenly person.
[From Yiddish shlumperdik (unkempt, sloppy).]

"'You don't want to dress up too much, but you don't want to be a schlump,' says Michael Kors."
-- Hal Rubenstein; Terrific Style by Age, by Size, by Shape, by Color; In Style (New York); Aug 2006.

schnook (shnook) noun A stupid, easily deceived person.
[From Yiddish shnuk (snout) or from German schnucke (a small sheep).]

"A gun-toting schnook became an embarrassing crook when he robbed a Spokane dollar store Sunday. Seriously, if you're going to commit a Class A felony, you might as well rob a Class A joint."
-- Frank Sennett; Dollar-Store Thief Bucks Common Sense; Spokesman Review (Washington); Mar 9, 2007.

Friday, April 4, 2008

antinomian -- the law doesn't apply to me

Today we hit the David Brooks Daily Double. Here is another sentence from his column in today's Times:

"Dreams of economic opportunity and racial integration were swallowed up by the antinomian passions and social disorder."

an·ti·no·mi·an –noun [Origin: 1635–45; < style="FONT-VARIANT: small-caps" href="" target="_blank">anti- + nómos law) + -ian]
1. a person who maintains that Christians are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel.

1. of or relating to or denying the fixed meaning or universal applicability of moral law:

"By raising segregation and racial persecution to the ethical level of law, it puts into practice the antinomian rules of Orwell's world. Evil becomes good, inhumanity is interpreted as charity, egoism as compassion" (Elie Wiesel).

anodyne -- soothing, comforting, assuaging pain

From David Brooks' column in today's Times:

"By 1968, King was under harsh assault not only from white racists but from the black power movement, which regarded his tactics as outdated and anodyne."

anodyne - adj. [from the Greek anodynos - a + odyne (pain)]
serving to assuage pain

anodyne - n.
1: a drug that alleviates pain
2: something that soothes, calms, or comforts

Thursday, April 3, 2008

iambs and meter from J.C. Tressler

My colleague Mike Harris introduced me to an early 20th Century pedagogue who belongs in our Grammar Pantheon along with Strunk & White, Hodges, Royster, Cushwa, Ruge, et al.

Jacob C. Tressler published his thesis on "The Efficiency of Student Correction of Compositions" in 1912, based on methods developed at Boys' High School in Brooklyn. By 1936 he had a national reputation, as head of the English Department at Richmond Hill High School in New York and as the author of English In Action, Courses One through Five, which had sold more than a million copies, were used all over the country, and are still available on for as little as $2 plus shipping.

"He pioneered a new emphasis in English textbooks," writes Henry I. Christ in "J.C. Tressler--A Brief Memoir, "--on making young people proficient in the actual use of English, not on trying to to create inept grammarians. He devised a dual organization of textbooks, with composition activities in one section and a reference handbook [the rules of grammar] in the second. . . .

"Tressler was an imposing presence. Physically, he towered over most people. When he entered a room, there were whispers of, 'There's Dr. Tressler.' He had a reserved personality, but there were depths of warmth and compassion known best to his closest friends and associates."

From Courses Three (1935) and Four (1940), it is plain that Tressler saw English teaching as intertwined with creating generally well-rounded people. The "composition activities" include public speaking (with a photo of coach Fritz Crisler talking to the Princeton football squad), conducting meetings, engaging in social conversation, putting out the school paper and yearbook, understanding "Personality and Human Relations" ("Skill helps build a self-confident personality," captions a photo of a lad using some sort of machine-tool), and many other tidbits.

Tressler's wonderful chapter on poetry explains meter wonderfully:

"When the rhythm is regular and conforms to a definite pattern, we say the line has meter. Each metrical line, or verse, is composed of feet, groups recurring accented and unaccented syllables.

"The commonly used feet are --
iambic . . . . . . u ' . . . . . . (ta tum') . . . . . . Marie'
anapestic . . . . . . u u ' . . . . . . (ta ta tum') . . . . . . to the brave'
trochaic . . . . . . ' u . . . . . . (tum' ta) . . . . . . Ma'ry
dactylic . . . . . . ' u u . . . . . . (tum' ta ta) . . . . . . Ma'rion

Dactyl is from the Greek word meaning finger. A finger has three bones, one longer than either of the others.

A verse is made up of one or more feet, and is named according to the type and number of feet. A verse having five iambic feet is called iambic pentameter.

u . ' . . u . . ' . . . . . . u . ' . . . . u . ' . . . . . . u . '
They al so serve who on ly stand and wait."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

prithee -- archaic but still handy


prithee (PRITH-ee) interjection
Please (used to express a request). [Contraction of (I) pray thee.]

"Probably it is because I am by profession a storyteller that I cannot resist a good tale, and it makes no matter if I end up telling it as a piece of fiction or as what calls itself truth. Just do not, I prithee, confuse me with a clam."
-- The Specialist Said; The Sunday Independent (Dublin, Ireland); May 28, 2006.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Long tall Candace

In the past couple of years, basketball announcers have started referring to tall players as being "long" or having great "length." In recent games we must have heard ESPN's Nancy Lieberman describe 6'6" Sylvia Fowles of LSU and 6' 5" Candace Parker of Tennessee this way 100 times.
Perhaps we just needed a change from our references to "height" (or "heighth," as many of us say) and "reach." Of course we've always called players like 5'2" Shannon Bobbitt "short" as well as "small," so why shouldn't we call the others "long" as well as "tall"?

Of course Little Richard Penniman understood this when he sang, "Long tall Sally, she's built for speed, she's got everything that Uncle John need."

(Yes, and Paul McCartney swallowed this lyric in his version, singing something like "Long tall sally, she's built sweet . . . " much as George Harrison morphed Carl Perkins' lyric in "Everybody's Tryin' to Be My Baby" from "Went out last night, didn't stay late, brought her home, had a nice teen date" into what sounds like "brought her home, had a nineteenth date.")