Tag Archives: language

Beestys and Fowlys

 

Dr. Language Guy here.

It has come to my attention that many of you face a grammatical dilemma when encountering strange wildlife in your own backyard. Now I know that, if you sight wolves, deer or locusts, you will immediately call out “There is a pack of wolves or a herd of deer or a plague of locusts in my backyard!”  Packs are common to a number of creatures – wolves, hounds and other dogs – as are herds – asses, buffalo, deer, elephants, giraffes, moose and zebras.  Plagues only apply to locusts and politicians.

But what do you say if, for examples, you encounter baboons, sheldrake or wombats? Never fear. Thanks to the Book of Saint Albans of 1486 entitled Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, aided by Wikipedia and abcteach, you will correctly and properly identify any group of animals that cross your path.  The animals will respect you for this attention to detail.

A Troop of Baboons

A Sedge of Bitterns

A Sounding of Boars

A Drove of Bullocks

A Tok of Capercaillie

A Quiver of Cobras

A Covert of Coots

A Bask of Crocodiles

A Murder of Crows

A Trip of Dotterel

A Fling of Dunlins

A Mob of Emus

A Fesnyng of Ferrets

A Bloat of Hippopotamuses

A Clattering of Jackdaws

A Deceit of Lapwings

An Ascension of Larks

A Plump of Moorhens

A Pod of Pelicans

An Ostentation of Peacocks

A Congregation of Plovers

A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes

A Crash of Rhinoceros

A Dopping of Sheldrake

A Walk of Snipes

A Pitying of Turtle Doves

A Wisdom of Wombats

Beestys

A WTF? of Weird Wildlife

 

We should start applying such terms to groups of people as well:

A Brace of Bloggers

A Klump of Kardashians

A Really Good Deal of Used Car Salesmen.

Do you have any suggestions?

If you can’t improve your health, improve your writing

 

Hypertextbook.com says that an average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week. Most sources say that the English language contains between 600,000 to over 1 million words depending upon how you count.  (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)  Not only do most of us use less than 3% of available words, we employ them poorly.  And when I say “we,” I mean “me, myself and I.”

As a charter member of the Failed Writers Society, I recognize my repetitive, trite speech and writing patterns especially when I come across informative reading matter.

A recent article from The New Yorker entitled Alone in the Alps by James Lasdin described the connection between the Via Alpina trail in Europe and its rich culture as follows:

“That sense of multiplicity is still strong. The Rockies may offer wilder wilderness, but you don’t experience the pleasure of sharp cultural variegation as you move from place to place…   It’s there […] in the freshly incomprehensible road signs, which is Slovenia are clotted with consonant clusters, as if vowels were an indulgence.”

This description of a consonant-rich Eastern European language is the best I’ve come across since a Car Talk episode called Vowels to Bosniahttp://www.cartalk.com/content/vowels-bosnia

So what’s the connection between not improving your health and improving your writing? Well, if nothing else, not improving your heath will give you less time to improve your epitaph* when that inevitable day comes.

[*Dr. Language Guy wishes to point out that he word “epitaph” comes from the Latin epitaphium, which, in turn, comes from the Greek epitaphion, meaning “over or at a tomb.”  This is derived as epi (“on” or “over”) + taph(os) (“tomb”).]

Here are some better examples.

In a London cemetery:

Here lies Ann Mann,

Who lived an old maid

But died an old Mann

Dec. 8, 1767

 In a Ribblesford, England cemetery:

The children of Israel wanted bread;

And the Lord sent them manna.

Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,

And the Devil sent him Anna.

In Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona:                          

Here lays Butch,

We planted him raw.

He was quick on the trigger,

But slow on the draw.

 Also in Boot Hill:                          

Here lies Lester Moore

Four slugs from a 44

No Les

No more.

 Of a hanged sheep thief, in Lame, Ireland:

Here lies the body

Of Thomas Kemp

Who lived by wool

But died by hemp.*

 * A witticism from Cervantes’ Don Quixote states:  “One does not speak of hemp in the house of the hanged.”

A lawyer’s epitaph in England:

 Sir John Strange

Here lies an honest lawyer,

And that is Strange.

 In Newbury, England (1742):

 Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies,

Nobody laughs and nobody cries;

Where his soul’s gone, or how it fares,

Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

 In a Welland, Ontario cemetery:

Here lies all that remains of old Aunt Charlotte,

Born a virgin, died a harlot.

For sixteen years she kept her virginity,

A marvelous thing for this vicinity.

 

And finally, in Hollywood Forever cemetery:

Improveyourwriting

 

Biases and Prejudices

In a rare moment of reflection and self-evaluation, I came face-to-face with a startling realization about my own biases and prejudices.

Biased1

I will believe as Gospel truth anything told to me by someone who has a proper British accent or a deep baritone voice.  The late Sir Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart or Dennis Haysbert could sell me swamp land, stock in the Brooklyn Bridge, a body organ or a radioactive device.  They could tell me that they know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, reveal their encounters with alien life forms or how to make gold from base metals and I would believe them.  They could convince me that I was a victim of botched trans-vaginal mesh surgery or that I lived a previous life in the court of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary.  I could listen to any of these voices as they recite the Newark, New Jersey yellow pages and be mesmerized.

I consider Abraham Lincoln as the greatest prose poet of the nineteenth century.  He is reported, however, to have had a high-pitched, squeaky voice.  It is better that I never heard him speaking his famous words because I would not accept them.

Imagine that you are driving along an interstate highway in the Deep South in the United States and you are involved in a terrible traffic accident.  You are rushed to the emergency center of a nearby regional hospital with life threatening injuries.  Which of these two doctors would you prefer to operate on you?

Doctor Number 1:  (in a clipped, upper class British accent) “I am your surgeon, Dr. Hugh Lockhart-Mummery.  Trust me when I say that I and my superbly capable staff shall get you through this complicated procedure with as little difficulty as possible.  I must tell you that, although I trained at Harvard, Oxford, the Mayo Clinic and the American Hospital of Paris, this is my very first attempt to perform this complicated operation.  Your family may rest assured, though, that you are in competent hands.”

Doctor Number 2: (in an accent like Gomer Pyle): “Well gol-lee, we sure got us a good one here.  Haven’t seen a break like this since baby brother fell outta the ol’ swamp oak.  I’m Dr. Joe-Bob and me and my crew will get you fixed up quicker’n your mama can unbutton her overalls.  Done a couple thousand of these and ain’t had to call the morgue yet.”

Now logic would dictate that Dr. Joe-Bob, with a thousand plus operations under his belt, knows what he is doing and Dr. Lockhart-Mummery-Whatever doesn’t know squat.  But are you going to tell me that you would not be reassured by that soothing voice of confidence that only comes with a proper British accent?  And that you would be less than comforted by hearing the voice of a surgeon who sounds like one of the supporting characters from the Dukes of Hazzard?

Yes, we all carry our biases and prejudices with us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, someone who sounds just like James Earl Jones is telling me I only have five minutes left to make a once-in-a-lifetime investment in property on the moon.

…… for Dummies

I received a notice recently of the availability of Medicare for Dummies, Second Edition.

Medicare for Dummies

For only $19.99, I can find out:

  • When I should sign up for Medicare
  • What Medicare covers
  • What Medicare costs
  • How Medicare works with other health benefits.

All of this information is undoubtedly useful, especially for an aging population in need of such advice.  The “For Dummies” book franchise now has over 2500 titles.  As stated in Wikipedia, “For Dummies is an extensive series of instructional/reference books which are intended to present non-intimidating guides for readers new to the various topics covered.  The series has been a worldwide success with editions in numerous languages.”

But Medicare for Dummies just strikes a non-resonant chord.  It raises the question* of what is next for a dummy like me.  Besides the obvious – Retirement for Dummies, Medicaid for Dummies – there is the illogical step to:

  • Walking and Chewing Gum for Dummies
  • Answering the Phone for Dummies
  • Monday for Dummies (part one of a seven part series)
  • Poverty and Homelessness for Dummies
  • Borderline Hysteria for Dummies
  • Terminal Cancer for Dummies
  • Death for Dummies
  • and
  • How to be a Dummy for Dummies.

I should have realized that there is already a Blogging for Dummies, Facebook for Dummies and Twitter for Dummies.  There is also Critical Thinking for Dummies which appears to be a contradiction in terms.

It’s only a matter of time before you can enroll in For Dummies University (FDU) where you can graduate Magna cum Stultus.

——-

*Dr. Language Guy applauds the use of “raises the question” versus “begs the question” and refers readers to several diatribes articles on this subject.

http://hubpages.com/education/Begging-the-Question-vs-Raising-the-Question-Understanding-a-commonly-misused-phrase

http://philosophy.avemaria.edu/post/29691374480/begging-the-question-vs-raising-the-question

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/begs-the-question?page=all

The Penis from Venus

 

I was reading articles from a recent issue of The New Yorker and came across Eight Short Science-Fiction Stories (including the Penis from Venus) by Paul Simms and Omission, choosing what to leave out by John McPhee. In my tangled, warped mind, I combined them into a stream of conscientiousness (or, in my case, a swamp of conscientiousness) about writing and blogging. McPhee is a favorite author of mine: I have enjoyed Assembling California, Basin and Range and The Curve of Binding Energy, among others. McPhee has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965, has published twenty-eight books and teaches a course in Creative Non-fiction.

McPheeJohn McPhee

McPhee emphasized that “creative non-fiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.” On occasion, an article has to be shortened in order to fit the available space but most of the time any post, article, short story or novel can use judicial editing to improve the work. Editors, a sadly neglected and all but abandoned lot, would agree. McPhee stressed his point by using the analogy of Michelangelo as a sculptor “with six tons of Carrera marble, a mallet, a point chisel [and other tools]: ‘I’m just taking away what doesn’t belong there.’” So prose writing is as much about what is NOT written as what is.

It got me to thinking, what should I leave out of any of my posts when blogging?

  • The penis from Venus – Yes, but then I would not have gotten your attention.
  • The dream where I was dancing nude at my school reunion – Definitely.
  • Any health issue that involves the description of one or more orifices – Most definitely.
  • How to build a thermonuclear bomb from six common items found in most kitchens – Not a good idea.
  • Using hot lead enemas as a means of corporal punishment – Um, yes.
  • A discussion of the effect of 2,4,6 acetyl dichlorobenzene on the anechoic chamber of the rat – Yes.
  • My Congressional Medal of Honor, my Nobel Peace Prize and my Pulitzer – Oh, wait, it’s creative NON-fiction.
  • The moaning sounds and the God-awful smells that emanated from a dumpster near 43rd Street the last time I visited New York City – Maybe.
  • Alien anal probing and sex with animals – See the penis from Venus, above.
  • OOGA horns – No, there is always room for OOGA horns. http://www.ahooga.com/ahooga_wav.shtml

McPhee also quoted Hemingway saying “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” With that thought in mind, here are the other items to omit “as though I had stated them:”

Did you cover all of them for me?

Oh, and what does any of this have to do with Eight Short Science-Fiction Stories? That’s where the swamp of conscientiousness comes in.