Thursday, July 31, 2008

Select words with due regard to their connotation (power of suggestion)

From pp. 248-9 of the first edition (1941) of the Harbrace Handbook of English by University of Tennessee Professor John C. Hodges:

20 e (4) Select words with due regard to their connotation (power of suggestion).

Words are feelings, emotions, sensations, ideas. Some words, beside their literal meaning, have the power to suggest varied associations. They are surrounded, as it were, by an aura of feelings. They stir up unexplainable emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, and connect the present situation with something remote in consciousness. They seem to be an intrinsic part of ourselves, and are tied up with all our experiences. For instance, the word hearth, which literally means the floor of a fireplace, suggests in addition the fireside, warmth, safty, good cheer, a family and friends, and the home itself. Stove, on the other hand, is much poorer in suggestive power.

BARREN He sat musing by the stove.
RICHER He sat musing by the hearth.

BARREN Regas sells hot steaks.
RICHER Regas sells sizzling steaks.

BARREN The boat sailed close to the shore.
RICHER The boat hugged the shore.

BARREN The baby likes to play.
RICHER The baby is as playful as a kitten.

BARREN John entered the house quietly.
RICHER John sneaked into the house.

BARREN The man at the door is an unemployed person.
RICHER The man at the door is a tramp.

Exercise. Tell briefly what feelings, pleasant or unpleasant, come to you when you read the following words.
1. pig
2. Ford
3. Nazi
4. Sissy
5. duck
6. Fifth Avenue
7. TVA
8. flag
9. beans
10. justice
11. date
12. key
13. Rose Bowl
14. honey
15. liberty
16. Finland
17. expectorate
18. upper crust
19. New Orleans
20. sport
21. dog
22. dirty
23. propaganda
24. courage

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lacuna -- a blank space (like a lagoon)

From The New Yorker's 7/21 story "Making It: How Chicago shaped Obama":
"But his life in Chicago from 1991 until his victorious Senate campaign is a lacuna in his autobiography."

Lacuna -- [from Latin lacuna -- pool, pit, or gap; also the root of lagoon, from the French lagune and Italian laguna] pl. lacunae
1: a blank space or a missing part
2: a small cavity, pit or discontinuity in an anatomical structure

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grammatical responses to "How are you?" and "How ya doin'?"

A friend found herself managing a debate among high school students about the proper response to the everyday pleasantries, "How are you?" and "How are you doing?"

She writes:
Some students believe the proper answer is, "I am well," while others believe that "I am good" is correct.
One student made life more difficult by answering, "I am doing well." He chose "well" because the question uses the interrogative "how," which he believes calls for an adverb and thus he believes "well" is the proper response. In fact, his use of the verb "doing" may change the question completely. Oth ers believe that the response needs a predicate adjective and therefore "good" is proper.
The students' question is two-fold: 1. Is the correct response to the question, "how are you," "good" or "well"? 2. If the question is "how are you doing," what is the correct response? And, of course, the main question is WHY?

The response:

We should note at the outset that conversational or dialectic English is often different than grammatical, formal, or "business" English. So this is an opportunity to point out to the students how the language we use in daily life or in our homes is not necessarily the language we use in the business world.

For example, the language of rock and roll, even written by Liverpudlians, is almost always in informal dialect. You simply couldn't sing, ":You aren't anything but a hound dog," or "Your Mama doesn't dance and your Daddy doesn’t rock and roll." (Although "Whom do you love?" wouldn't hurt.)

Similarly, in daily life, many Americans say, "You're doin' good" as a compliment. If they used the correct, "You're doin' well," among friends, those friends might subconsciously think, "What's got into you?" Similarly, we all say, "It's me," when we pick up a phone, when it should be, "It's I."

That said, correct answers to "How are you? ' and "How ya doin'?" are either "I am well" or "I'm doin' well."

"Well" is an adverb that answers the ques tion "how?" "Good" is an adjective that would have to modify a noun or pronoun. The answer "I am good" is grammatically correct -- and certainly a common, useful response in everyday conversation. But the grammatical meaning is just what it says--- the person is good---a good person, a religious person, maybe. In the answer "I am well," well is an adjective meaning pretty much "in good health." It is an appropriate response to the question "How ya doin?" because it states that you are in good health or good spirits, which is really what the question is asking.

Note: the word "fine" is interchangeable with "well," since it means basically the same thing and -- like "well" -- it is both an adjective and an adverb. (The word "finely" is going out of use in its definition as "in a fine manner, extremely well." You wouldn't say "I am doin' finely." But we still use it in reference to tuning or smallness, and a "finely tuned instrument" or "finely ground coffee.")

Let's compare this exchance to the French, who ask, "Ca va?" Literally, "It goes?" The response is either, "Ca va." or "Ca va bien." It goes, or it goes well (the adverb). (Or "Comme ci, comme ca" - Like this, like that-- the equivalent of our "so-so.")

Dave Clawson, UT Volunteers offensive coordinator

Article about Dave Clawson, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the UT Volunteers.

What Keeps Dave Clawson Up At Night?
It's late and even the cleaning crew has gone home. The SEC's newest offensive guru, however, is just getting started...
By Brooks Clark Photography by Justin Fee

It’s June, and Dave Clawson is watching film of opponents’ defenses.

“We watch film all the time,” says Clawson. In season, he says he and his coaches consistently watch six hours of film on most days and 10 hours on Sundays and Mondays.
In early summer, Clawson is studying the 12 defenses his quarterback, Jonathan Crompton, will see this fall.
How do they line up on 3rd-and-long inside the Red Zone (inside their own 20-yard line)?
When do the defensive backs play man-to-man and when do they play zone (guard an area rather than a particular receiver)?
When do they tend to blitz (send a defensive back to try to sack the quarterback)?
Which of their players do they tend to put on the field in different situations?
“We look at the defenses eight different ways,” says Clawson.

Read more.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Keeping "of"s for elegance

Grammar Gremlins: Dropping 'of' in speech is common - but include it in writing

Is the word "of" necessary in the following sentence?
"He saw a couple of hundred people at the concert."
Omitting this "of" in speech is common, but it should be included in writing, especially that which "aspires to formality and elegance," according to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.
" 'A couple' without 'of' seems to have begun being used like 'a few' and 'a dozen' in the 1920s," Webster's says.
The Associated Press Stylebook says of the phrase "couple of": "The 'of' is necessary. Never use 'a couple tomatoes' or a similar phrase."

------Also, can you imagine the first two verses of the elegant 1941 Glenn Miller hit "Moonlight Cocktail" without those "of"s?

G D7 G B7
Couple of jiggers of moonlight and add a star,

A7 E7 A7 E7 G/B A7
Pour in the blue of a June night and one gui - tar,

D9 Am7 D7 D9 Am7 D7
Mix in a couple of dreamers, and there you are:

G Em7 Am7 D7
Lovers hail the Moonlight Cocktail.

G D7 G B7
Now add a couple of flowers, a drop of dew,

A7 E7 A7 E7 G/B A7
Stir for a couple of hours 'til dreams come true.

D9 Am7 D7 D9 Am7 D7
Add to the number of kisses, it's up to you --

Am C A9 D7 G6
Moonlight Cocktail - need a few.


B7 F#m7 B7
Cool it in the summer breeze,

F#m7 B7 Em B7 Em
Serve it in the starlight underneath the trees.

A7 Em7 A7
You'll discover tricks like these

Em7 A7 D7
Are sure to make your Moonlight Cocktail please.

G D7 G B7
Follow the simple directions and they will bring

A7 E7 A7 E7 G/B A7
Life of another complexion where you'll be king.

D9 Am7 D7 D9 Am7 D7
You will awake in the morning and start to sing --

Am C A9 D7 G
Moonlight Cocktails are the thing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

If you don't like the edit-- write "stet"


stet (stet) verb tr., intr. Let it stand. [From Latin stet (let it stand), from stare (to stand). Ultimately from Indo-European root sta- (to stand) that is also the source of stay, stage, stable, instant, establish, static, and system.]

Stet is used as a direction on a printer's proof or manuscript to indicate that the alterations be undone and the original word or passage be restored.

"I realize that I have silted myself into the debate as a typographical neoconservative and a novitiate Barzunite, having insulted both pop culture and the West, and implied an allegiance to elegance and the author. I don't really want to mean this. Nevertheless, pls stet."
--Janet Burroway; Language, Culture, And the Cop (sic) Editor; The Chronicle of Higher Education (Washington, DC); Nov 7, 1997.

"The charges later were dismissed in Baltimore City and stetted in Howard County."
-- Peter Geier; 'Patricide' Author Sues Sheppard Pratt; The Daily Record (Baltimore, Maryland); Feb 5, 2003.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A literary contractor and a literary contracter

This flier was placed in a Chattanooga mailbox --

We will remodel your house interior and exterior from the smallest repair to complete remodeling of:

The students in a college class were told they had to write a short story in as few words as possible. The instructions were that the short story had to contain the following three topics: (1) Religion (2) Sexuality (3) Mystery

Below is the only A+ short story in the class:

"Good God, I'm pregnant; I wonder who did it."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No need to noodge (nag)! A little Yiddish couldn't hurt!

Maureen Dowd's column in today's Times brings up one of our favorite topics: Yiddish.

Wrote Dowd: "The One, as McCain aides sardonically call Obama, glided through Afghanistan, Iraq and Jordan, girding his messianic loins for the inevitable kvetching he would face in Israel as skeptical Jews 'try to get a better sense of what’s in Obama’s kishkes.' So said Nathan Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in The Daily News, defining “kishkes” as Yiddish for gut."

Kvetch (complain) goes right along with wonderful "k-" Yiddishisms like kvell (swell with pride) and kibitz (offer unwanted advice, notably during chess games).

A headline earlier this year from The Washington Post read: "The Audacity of Chutzpah"
"It took a bit of chutzpah [for Princeton professor Dan Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel] to play the anti-Semite for Obama -- but these are tense times for the senator from Audacity."

Please forgive such chutzpah (nerve, gall, supreme self-confidence) from a goy (gentile) like me, but here are some more Yiddish words that are pretty much a part of the English language -- we should be so lucky!

schlub (shlub) noun (also spelled as zhlub or zhlob) A clumsy oaf. [From Polish zhlob (blockhead, trough, manger).]
"This is ... the comedy of the schlub on the barstool who wonders when it all went wrong." Allan Brown; The Joke's Wearing a Bit Thin; The Sunday Times (London, UK) Jun 18, 2006.

All this schmagoogle (big to do) over Yiddish reminds us of the difference between a schlemiel (an unlucky bungler) and a shlemazl (an even more unlucky bungler). A schlemiel jumps out a window. He lands on the shlemazl.

Other Yiddishisms in the "sch" part of the dictionary: A schmo is a fool or a jerk, as is a schmuck. (Both actually refer to a certain body part.)

Schlock is low-quality merchandise, which some poor schnook (a stupid or unimportant person) has to schlepp (drag or haul) because some schnorrer (a beggar, or someone who wheedles others into supplying his wants) got him to do it. A comedian does his shtick (entertainment routine). A salesmen has his spiel. A shiksa (a non-Jewish girl) might be referred to as "a stick with eyes" in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story.

Albert Einstein sailed a small boat on the north shore of Long Island called Tinif, which is Yiddish for "junk." (He often got hit on the head by the boom when he came about.)

Enough already! This mishigas (craziness) is giving me shpilkes (nervous energy) and may turn me into a meshugine (a crazy person).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Frankly, it's better to avoid the "frankly" cliche

Just as we avoid cliches in writing, we should also beware of hackneyed expressions in speaking. One that comes to mind is the habit of saying, "Frankly, .... " before a statement, usually one that is supposed to shock or insult, as in Rhett Butler's immortal, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

The word "frankly" seems to say, "Hey, I'm being honest, so deal with it." It also makes us all feel like Clark Gable, delivering a real zinger. With frankly's overuse, however, have come the problems that--
  1. it becomes a habit, then a verbal tic, used constantly and therefore rendered trite and meaningless,
  2. it is used by many speakers exactly when they are not being frank, an
  3. it makes the listener wonder whether you've been candid all along, or whether -- as the speaker is unintentionally implying -- here comes a special treat, when at last we are hearing candid, honest words instead of the usual obfuscation or outright lies.

I recently heard a gentleman use an alternative -- "simply" -- when he gave an answer that was shorter and more direct than might have been expected. It has the same "Take that, Scarlett" rhythm, but it doesn't wave the "honesty" flag. (Of course, one had better made sure the answer is actually simple!)

On the subject of trite, or hackneyed expressions, the etymology of the latter word is interesting. Basically, the history of the word hackneyed tells us that, if we use our words all day, every day -- the way Londoners used their carriage horses -- our words get worn out.

hackney (HAK-nee) adjective
1. Trite.
2. Let out for hire.
verb tr.
1. To make banal or common by frequent use.
2. To hire out.
1. A breed of horses developed in England, having a high-stepping gait.
2. A horse suitable for routine riding or driving.
3. A carriage or coach for hire.

[Probably after Hackney in East London, where such horses were raised.
The word hack, in related senses, is a short form of hackney.]

Monday, July 21, 2008

Overweening -- a word for bullies

Here is a sentence from a David Brooks column in The New York Times:
"Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena."

Don't worry, the rest of the column was even more difficult to follow. But you gotta love the word "overweening."

overweening adj. arrogant, presumptuous.

A wonderful-sounding word, from the Middle English over + wenen, where wenen means to love or charm -- in other words someone who loves or charms too much.
I always imagined "overweening" had to do with the word "wean," from the Old English word for "accustom," meaning to gradually detach a newborn from nursing, or some other dependence. But that's not the case.

"Overweening" seems often to be used with the word "ambition," as it was in a skit in Good Evening, the follow-up to the 1960s British satire revue Beyond the Fringe, starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
In the skit, a school headmaster catches a boy named Rawlings with stolen gym slippers in his locker.
"I wanted the gym slippers and I took them," explains Rawlings.
"You wanted the gym slippers, and you took them," echoes the headmaster. "Good thinking. What kind of a world would it be, Rawlings, if everyone simply took what they wanted."
"It would be ghastly, sir."
"It would be ghastly, quite correct, Rawlings. So perhaps you fancy yourself a latter-day Hitler, annexing whatever you choose. Today, gym shoes, tomorrow, the world. Well, Rawlings, such overweening ambition has no place in this school. In me you will find no Chamberlain, no policy of appeasement. In me you will find a Churchill. I will fight you on the beaches, Rawlings. I will fight your doodle-bugs in the air....."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Arg. The seas bode well for those who can talk like a pirate.

In a Course On Tape about the development of the English language I borrowed from our library, Stanford linguistics professor Seth Lerer described the great "vowel shift" in English that left us so many Shakespearean rhymes that are no longer rhymes (and turned clark to clerk, darby to derby, Hertford to Hartford and so on).

The professor said that in his class a student, hearing what the vowels used to sound like, described it as "pirate talk." Lerer said, in fact, that's what it was. Pirates' language came from the decades when English made that vowel shift, and that's one reason it sounds so distinctive to us. Shiver me timbers, me hardy! ("Me" was of course shifting to "my.")

Pirate author John Baur from notes that our idea of Pirate talk comes from portrayal of Long John Silver by actor Robert Newton (above) in the 1950 Disney version of Treasure Island. Newton came from Cornwall, in Southwestern tip of England, and his distinctive Cornish accent is full of linguistic anachronisms.

avast (uh-VAST) interjection -- Stop (used as a command to stop or desist). [From Dutch hou vast (hold fast), from houd vast.]

false colors (fawls KUL-uhrs) noun -- Deceptive actions. [When ships approached each other at sea, sailors would look to the flag to determine whether the other vessel was from a friendly or enemy nation. They'd often try to confuse the other by flying a false flag until they were close enough to attack.]

Jolly Roger (JOL-ee ROJ-uhr) noun -- The pirates' flag, showing a white skull and crossbones on a black background. Also known as the blackjack or black flag.]

buccaneer (buk-uh-NEER) noun -- 1. An unscrupulous adventurer in politics, business, etc. 2. A pirate. [From French boucanier (buccaneer, barbecuer, hunter of wild ox), from boucan (a frame for smoking meat), from a French adaptation of a Carib Indian word bukan, a way of slow-cooking meat over a low fire on a grill.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"It's me" and "It's him" are OK

from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

it is I; it is me. (2)

Those with even a smattering of French know that "It's me" answers nicely to "C'est moi." Good writers have long found the English equivalent serviceable -- e.g.:

o "It is not me you are in love with." Richard Steele, The Spectator, No. 290, 1 Feb. 1712.

o "But Silver . . . called out to know if that were me." Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island 72 (1883; repr. 1985).o "Begin talking out your thoughts on paper as if you were explaining a concept to a friend. Imagine that it's me." John R. Trimble, Writing with Style 22 (2d ed. 2000).

E.B. White told an amusing story about the fear that so many writers have of making a mistake: "One time a newspaper sent us to a morgue to get a story on a woman whose body was being held for identification. A man believed to be her husband was brought in. Somebody pulled the sheet back; the man took one agonizing look, and cried, 'My God, it's her!' When we reported this grim incident, the editor diligently changed it to 'My God, it's she!'" E.B. White, "English Usage," in The Second Tree from the Corner 150, 150-51 (1954).

Similar problems arise in the third person, as in "it is him." When the contraction appears, Newsweek makes the phrase "it's him" -- e.g.: "Rostenkowski simply signed an expense-account voucher for stamps that Smith converted into cash. The first time he says he witnessed the alleged scheme, in 1989, 'I was no doubt taken aback when I saw his [Rostenkowski's] name on the [$2,000] voucher. I couldn't believe it was him.' Most Democrats on Capitol Hill still can't believe it's him." Jonathan Alter, "Rostenkowski Reeling," Newsweek, 2 Aug. 1993, at 20.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

commas, etc. inside or outside quotation marks

Harbrace 16e(1) Place the comma within the quotation marks. Place the period within the quotation marks if the quotation ends the sentence.

16e(2) Place the semicolon and the colon outside the quotation marks.
She spoke of "the protagonists"; yet I remembered only one in "The Tell-Tale Heart": the mad murderer.

16e(3) Place the question mark, the exclamation point, and the dash within the quotation marks when they apply only to the quoted matter. Place them outside when they do not.

Pilate asked, "What is truth?"

What is the meaning of the term "half-truth"?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

callipygian -- having good junk in the trunk


callipygian (kal-uh-PIJ-ee-uhn) adjective:
[From Greek calli- (beautiful) + pyge (buttocks).]
Having well-shaped buttocks.

[At right, the Aphrodite Kallipygos (Venus of the beautiful buttocks) lifting her robe and gazing down at her assets.]

"And it hasn't been lost on modern film directors that a nice set of tights can showcase the callipygian assets of a well-formed leading man."
-- Heroes in Hosiery; South China Morning Post (Hong Kong); Jul 20, 2006.


also brings to mind the delightful word steatopygia (noun) --
[from the Greek steat (fat) + pyge (buttocks)]
an excessive accumulation of fat on the buttocks (adj. steatopygic or steatopygous)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Casus belli -- event used to justify starting a war


From Seymour Hersh's story "Preparing the Battlefield" in the July 7-14 New Yorker:
"The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. 'The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,' he said."

casus belli (KAY-suhs BEL-i, rhymes with bell-eye, BEL-ee) noun
An action or event that causes or is used to justify starting a war.
[From New Latin casus belli, from Latin casus (occasion), belli, genitive of bellum (war).]

"Education, both secondary and tertiary, remains a battleground, though the casus belli seems to be more about funding than egalitarianism."
-- Stan Heyl; Class War - The Struggle Goes On; The Independent (London, UK); May 19, 2001.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"catholic" with a small "c"


catholic (kath-uh-LIC) adjective
1. Wide-ranging; universal.
2. Broad-minded; inclusive.

[From Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos (general), from kata (according to, by) + holou (whole). Ultimately from Indo-European root sol- (whole) that brought us words such as solid, salute, save, salvo, and soldier.]

"[Broadcaster John Ebdon] notched up more than 1,000 broadcasts on topics that reflected the catholicity of his interests -- they included astronomy, religion and poetry."
-- Obituaries: John Ebdon; The Times (London, UK); Mar 24, 2005.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Desperately seeking hegemony

In one of David Brooks's columns in The New York Times, Brooks wrote, "Some see a nation in permanent decline and an end to American hegemony."
He concluded with the stirring quatrain, "In short, the U.S. has taken its share of blows over the past few years, but the isolationist dog is not barking. The hegemon will change. The hegemon will do more negotiating. But the hegemon will live."

The word "hegemony" means the preponderant influence or authority, especially of one nation over others. It is generally pronounced with the accent on the second syllable and a soft "g" -- "heh -JEM -owney", although the dictionary says a hard "g" is also OK.

It comes from a Greek word "hegemon," meaning "leader," which Brooks so elegantly invoked. ("Hegemon" is not in my Webster's New Collegiate; it's listed as an "obscure" word on Google.)

We see the word hegemony in history texts, as in "France hoped to end to a long period of German hegemony in Europe." We see it in articles about international affairs, as from The Washington Post: "...Within Iraq, there are thousands of current and potential gunmen willing to fight for their people and their creeds -- Kurdish autonomy, Sunni hegemony, Shiite control, an Islamic republic. But the force charged with defending a pluralistic, united Iraq just went AWOL under fire..."
And you see it in Alexander Wolff's mellifluous college basketball stories in Sports Illustrated, in sentences like "The Lady Vols unwillingly endured five years of UConn hegemony in women's basketball."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Small charter schools--experiments that are working

from The New York Times
EDUCATION June 30, 2008

Attention Goes a Long Way at a School, Small by Design
At the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, many in the first graduating class of 79 seniors are from the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and nearly all are collegebound.

Apostrophes Have Varied Uses

Apostrophe has varied uses

The apostrophe differs from most punctuation marks by appearing as part of a word or number. Most punctuation marks separate words or numbers.

An apostrophe does four things.

  1. It indicates possession. Examples: The cat's eyes are green. The students' conduct was excellent.
  2. It indicates the omission of one or more letters. Examples: You're the one he chose. She plays rock 'n' roll.
  3. It indicates the omission of numbers. Example: They were in the class of '97, and
  4. An apostrophe is used to write plurals of a single letter. Example: His grades included three C's.

    [Note: No. 4 also works for pluralizing abbreviations of two or more letters, like GI's, and decades, like the 1990's, although Harbrace 15c notes that, when no confusion would result, you can leave the apostrophe out of the examples above.]