William F. Buckley: ‘A Repristinated Vision’

Newspapers today are awash with obituaries and tributes to conservative icon William F. Buckley, who died yesterday at 82 while working on his daily column at home.

No one, regardless of political leanings, could ever accuse Buckley of abusing the English language.  In fact, he usually elevated it.

Buckley was quoted in a Wall Street Journal editorial today as recently having called for "a repristinated vision" for the conservative movement.

Frankly, I had never heard or read that word before, but its root is the noun pristine, so Buckley was issuing a call to restore the original vision of the conservative movement.

Let me add my nearly inconsequential tribute to the man who showed us all that there is life after FDR and liberal socialism.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Welcome to the English Hall of Shame, Roger Clemens

Pitcher Roger Clemens began testifying before Congress today, and though he was unaware of it in his ongoing denial of reality, his chances of making the Hall of Fame went up in smoke with his lies.

In the process, he also managed to throw every associate and loved one of his under the bus, including his wife, attorney and agent.  He reminded me of Captain Queeg.  Quick, someone pass Roger some little metal balls.

He also managed to make mangled-English history, concocting the word misremembered to characterize his chum Andy Pettitte.  Andy, it seems, "misremembered" (under oath, no less) a conversation he had with Roger about the latter’s admitting he used  steroids.

Okay, Roger, we’ll likewise misremember you for the Hall of Fame.

Welcome, however, to the Grammar Sucks Hame of Shame, Roger, for both mangling English and mangling the truth (might as well throw in "justice and the American way" while I’m at it).

Meaning of the Phrase, ‘The Devil to Pay’

I belong to this e-mail service called "A Phrase a Week," and this week’s phrase is "the devil to pay."

Now, what I didn’t know is that the seams between planks on a wooden ship are called "the devil."  Therefore, "the devil to pay" could be interpreted to mean filling in these seams, or devils, with resin, etc.

However, the "Phrase a Week" service debunks this by pointing out the Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul to get ahead in life and quotes Thomas Brown’s 1707 Letters from the Dead to the Living

"Don’t you know damnation pays every man’s scores… we knew we should have the Devil to pay one time or other, and now you see like honest men we have pawn’d our Souls for the whole Reckoning."

The e-mail notes that this usage predates the "seams" variation, which makes good sense to me, as I’m constantly paying the devil to try to stay afloat in this world of forebearance.

Using (and Misusing) the Colon

A lot of people get confused about where and how to use the colon. 

For instance, some people will place a colon after a verb to introduce things that follow, as in: "The four reasons are: greed, anger, stupidty and laziness." 

However, here’s a tidy little rule to remember:  Never use a colon after a verb, but do use it after a noun.

Let me rewrite the above example to show you what I mean:  "The four reasons are the following: greed, anger, stupidity and laziness."

Here, even though the colon is used correctly, you now have a wordiness and awkwardiness problem.

Solution:  Just take the colon out of the first sentence. 

(Also, I just contradicted myself by saying never use a colon after a verb when that’s exactly what you have to use to introduce a quotation of more than one sentence.  Example: He said:  "Blah. Blah."  Oops!  Anyway, don’t use it after are or include and other verbs that are introducing a series of nouns or thoughts within a sentence.)

Group Anoints ‘Subprime’ Word of the Year

I never knew there was an American Dialect Society (do they use there for their?), nor did I know anyone went around dubbing words of the year.

However, the American Dialect Society just proclaimed subprime its Word of the Year.

(Subprime, of course, refers to real estate loans made to people who really can’t afford them.  Witness the recent mess in the mortgage lending world and the subsequent rollicking effect on the stock market.)

The Society says the chosen words "do not have to be brand-new [my note: hyphen incorrect and not needed], but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year."

(What about surge?)

Previous winners:  To be plutoed (2006), Truthiness (2005), Red/blue/purple states (2004), Metrosexual (2003), 9-11 or 9/11 (2001) and Chad (2000).

What’s Wrong With This Phrase?

In describing one of the contestants (I think it was Wolfgang Puck) on Iron Chef America, Alton Brown said the chef was always "reinventing new ingredients."

Anything wrong with that expression?

A couple of things are off here. 

For one, you can’t reinvent something that’s new; you can only invent something that’s new.  For another, you can’t invent food ingredients unless you cross-pollinate or cross-breed or somehing like that, which is not what Brown meant.  You can certainly discover new ingredients, maybe, if no one else has discovered them yet.

What Brown meant, however, was that Puck was always "creating new dishes" or "inventing new recipes." 

See how easily it is to misuse English.

Now, that being said, I’m probably the only person in the universe who perked up his ears (no mean feat) when he heard "reinventing new ingredients."  I’m sure it just went sailing merrily by the bulk of the viewers.

UR What U Rite, or ur what u rite

Happy New Year’s and welcome to 2008, everyone.

I see that the use of English continues to degenerate into some electronic media-driven abortion of its beautiful person.

Probably, most if not all of you heard of the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day that left one 17-year-old dead.

We certainly all grieve for this unfortunately incident and loss of a human being just going into the prime of life.

However, even in death the transformation of English from a beautiful means of expression–lyrical, powerful, persuasive–to ae e-mail, textmail aberration continues almost unchallenged.

A Web site immediately was launched in honor of the fallen youth, but it was riddled with all the faults of a generation not taught English and consumed (transfixed is better) by electronic media.

The site had not one capital letter, not at the start of sentences or anywhere, and about every second or third sentence started out, "ur…."

I’m sure the folks over at the Oxford Enlgish Dictionary are already recognizing ur as the modern version of you are.  I wonder if they’ll demand that the u be capitalized at the start of a sentence.

Probably not.

Happy Nu Yere!

Is ‘Oh, My God!’ Sacrilegious?

This debate passed me by altogether until I chanced upon a Washington Post story this morning, but it appears that there’s consternation over the widespread use of “Oh, my God!”

Some argue that it’s taking God’s name in vain, others that it’s just an everyday expression similar to “Oh, my Gosh” or “Oh, s—!”  (People sometimes add a “holy” to the “s” expression, so does that make that saying sacrilegious as well?)

You read “Watch Your Acronyms” and decide for yourself.

Happy Holiday Musings

Sorry, but I’ve been caught up in the holiday bustle of shopping and returning presents and not minding the blog so much.

I’ve also been sampling some of the movies mentioned as Oscar favorites.  One proved very literary; the other was more lyrical (and gory).

Atonement is the literary one.  The dialogue and voiceovers (internal thoughts) convey powerful, beautiful English, quite literary in tone.

Sweeney Todd is the lyrical one, literally because it’s a Broadway musical/opera that’s been made into a movie by Tim Burton.  The story is a good one, but the effects are quite gory.  (If you don’t know the plot, just visit a site like MRQE.com and type in “Sweeney Todd.”)

Verdict?  Go to Atonement if you like literary works that fill the screen with both powerful visual images and powerful spoken English.  Go to Sweeney Todd if you’re a fan of either the Stephen Sondheim original or of Tim Burton.  If you go, however, be prepared for more blood than you’ve ever seen in your life.

Both movies are well worth your time.

It’s Hard to Attack Reality

I’ve already concluded from the scores and hundreds of college classes I’ve taught that at best only one in 100 college students even has a clue that the word their exists.  Most students just routinely right there whether they need it as an adverb or possessive pronoun. 

With this much widespread ignorance and abuse, I’m sure the gool ol’ obligin’ folk at the Oxford English Dictionary will soon sign off on the use of there as both adverb and possessive pronoun.  Oh, sad day. 

Now, here’s a cute double-whammy I came across this morning in one of my U.S. history classes.

A student did some research on presidents and discovered that only 19 in total ever served at least four years (seems low, though I didn’t challenge it), but her rationale was more revealing:  Since, she wrote, most people don’t become president until they’re really old in their (she wrote there) 60s, they quickly die of hard attacks.

You can’t argue with such logic.