Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another word for Thursday -- gormandizer




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




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?


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


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 --

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


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.)