Reader Mail

Language Lessons

English for starters. Plus, Planned Parenthood in its place. The Dean salute. And more.

1.6.04

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PRICELESS BY THE DOZEN
One small addendum to James Bowman's devastating review of the new, PC Cheaper by the Dozen. In the original 1950 Clifton Webb vehicle, still a favorite among Catholic homeschoolers, there's a priceless scene in which the Gilbreths are visited by a Planned Parenthood representative, played with exquisite primness by Mildred Natwick. She hopes to recruit Mrs. Gilbreth (Myrna Loy), whose large house could perhaps be used as a meeting place for the important work of Planned Parenthood. Introduced by a deadpan Mr. Gilbreth to their 12 children, Natwick recoils as if from some filthy perversion and, in a huff, beats a fast retreat from the placid smiles of the Gilbreths. The scene is intrinsically hilarious, but apparently unreachable by 2004 sensibilities.
-- John R. Dunlap
San Jose, California

TAKES YOU BACK
Re: Shawn Macomber's Rolling in Minions:

Shawn Macomber writes: "NASHUA -- When Howie Dean shows up to speak someplace, there's usually is a certain ritual. First come the requisite apologies for the Governor's lateness. Then, as the crowd squirms, the True Believers, young Deanies, take turns at the mike, explaining their reasons for devoting so much of themselves to the campaign. Without fail, they mime their idol, fists in the air, repeating the angry Dean mantra, 'this country belongs to us, and we have to take it back.'"

Have any of them yet begun singing, "The Future Belongs to Me"?
-- Jim Stevenson

FIELD OF DREAMS
Re: Paul Beston's Children of the Corn:

Mr. Beston's article points out that the Dems have a structural problem in their nominating process. Republicans probably have it too, but no challenger to Bush this round. That is, too many contenders vying for the privilege of being President. Never have I seen so many candidates still standing at this point in the nomination process.

The issue will come back to haunt the Dems in that the focus will be on the internal squabble well past the South Carolina ballots, rather than on winning the Presidency. If there are still three standing by New Mexico the Dems could go to the convention with a huge Dean presence, Sharpton with a threat to back the black vote "home," and Lieberman prepared to play broker. The smoked-filled backroom could have done better than this.

Might I surmise that the reason Dr. Dean has his records sealed is to avoid medical malpractice?
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

TONGUE TRIED
Re: Reid Collins's Friends, Romans, Countrymen …:

In "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" Reid Collins is hoeing a tough row, and asking us to hoe along with him. We all know that the weeds are well beyond containment now.

I have, as do many or most of the purportedly educated, my own pet peeves, such as the use of "most" -- meaning "nearly" -- where "almost" is required. I suspect, since I hadn't noticed this misuse before I moved to the South, that this derives from the colloquial, homey, very Southern or country "'most," which is forgivable in friendly speech. (Do note the presence of the humble apostrophe -- the least understood and most abused little mark in the world.) Now it appears regularly, even in Yankee print.

On another issue raised by Collins, I am SHOCKED to know that "schism" is to be pronounced "sizm." I acknowledge my own contribution to skizmophilia, but here justify it by noting that the word derives from the Indo-European root "skei," which passing via the Greeks would have come to us as something very like "skizm," had it not been softened up by the French.
-- Jeffrey S. Erickson
Davidson, North Carolina

I really enjoyed "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" by Reid Collins. I suggest, however, that he should include what is to me one of the most egregious abuses of our language: use of the phrase "gone missing (or went missing)," often used when reporting a child is missing. Why is it necessary to use two words when one is more than sufficient? This is another irritation that has crept into the language and probably cannot be stopped.
-- Dale Richmond
San Jose, California

A common misusage Mr. Collins has in his article is the term "Episcopalian Church." There is NO Episcopalian Church. There are Episcopalians who attend the Episcopal Church. Episcopalian is a noun only (unlike "Presbyterian" which apparently is both noun and adjective), and Episcopal is the adjectival usage. I thank Mr. Collins for his article which, in all other instances, was interesting and informative.
-- The Rev. Paul E. Meglathery
Episcopal Church of SS James and George
Jermyn, Pennsylvania

As a former English teacher, I read and hear appalling grammar used every day in the media and in everyday interaction with people. One of the biggest usage mistakes made is "between you and I" or "for you and I" instead of "between you and me" or "for you and me." Unfortunately, when the old timers like me left teaching, there was no one to take our place in teaching grammar. It simply is not taught in most classrooms today, either in the public schools or private schools. Our language has become so debased that it no longer resembles the Queen's English which used to be the standard for Americans. The beauty, fluidity, conciseness and correctness of the English language is fast disappearing in this country. 'Tis a shame!
-- Carole Newton
Dallas, Texas

The Roman Legions would "decimate" their own for cowardice after a battle in which they lost badly. This would hopefully entice the remaining solders to fight harder in the next engagement. They would if they won, kill all who surrendered or sell all who surrendered as slaves

Thank You,
-- Jeff Brownell

"Decimate" was a form of punishment in the Roman Army for cowardice etc. The commander would designate each 10th man who was then beaten to death or otherwise killed by his companion soldiers. Conquered enemies were too valuable as potential slaves to be so sadly wasted without profit.
-- Gerald McDougall

From Dictionary.com: "Usage Note: The word schism, which was originally spelled scisme in English, is traditionally pronounced (szm). However, in the 16th century the word was respelled with an initial sch in order to conform to its Latin and Greek forms. From this spelling arose the pronunciation (skzm). Long regarded as incorrect, it became so common in both British and American English that it gained acceptability as a standard variant. Evidence indicates, however, that it is now the preferred pronunciation, at least in American English. In a recent survey 61 percent of the Usage Panel indicated that they use (skzm), while 31 percent said they use (szm). A smaller number, 8 percent, preferred a third pronunciation, (shzm)."
-- unsigned

I taught my husband the mantra of "loan is a noun, lend is a verb." Now any time some less-knowing person uses "loan" as a verb on television or radio, he yells out "It's 'LEND,' you idiot!"

I've created a monster.
-- Evelyn Leinbach

CONFLICT RESOLUTION:
Re: Lawrence Henry's Things Children (and Experts) Cannot Understand:

Lawrence Henry concludes with a question for Dr. Strauss: "Your eight-year-old has your two-year-old in a hammerlock and will break the baby's arm in less than two seconds. What are you going to do now?"

Obviously, he'll have a counseling session with the eight-year-old in a wing off the emergency room while the baby's arm is being set.
-- Mark Hessey
Belmar, NJ

SETBACK FOR CANADA
Re: Thomas DeChastelain's letter ("Reality TAS" -- scroll down) in Reader Mail's Loose Talk:

After reading Thomas DeChastelain's letter, I guess President Bush will have to figure out how to win re-election without the Canadian vote.

I wonder if Mr. DeChastelain is one of MoveOn.org's foreign donors to the Howard Dean campaign -- in violation of American law?
-- Kevin McGehee
Coweta County, Georgia

While I usually enjoy the ridiculous letters to the editor you post for our amusement, could you please refrain from posting idiotic ranting from Canadian morons?

Mr. Thomas DeChastelain of Ottawa, Ontario writes, "Only Howard Dean has the integrated philosophy which views America as a young country, just entering adulthood, and which realizes that if it can get its act together, the United States can truly fulfill its rightful destiny of leading the world to a better place."

Didn't they legalize marijuana in Canada recently? Either way, Mr. DeChastelain must be stoned. I don't need to be lectured from a citizen of a country that wouldn't have an economy or defense if it wasn't for the United States. The hubris of some Canadians borders on insane.
-- Greg Barnard
Franklin, Tennessee

SAFER DURING WAR
Re: Carole Glickfield's letter ("Lip Gloss") in Reader Mail's Loose Talk:

In all her sophistication Carole Glickfield demonstrates what [a poor thinker] she is. Asking whether we are safer in the middle of a war is stupid. After Midway, was our country caught up with whether we were safer? The country was instead focused on the next nasty thing we could do to defeat the Japanese. This is the question we need to ask now. What do we do to our enemy next? This is what the present administration has been doing.

Carole illustrates why the Democratic Party is not fit to control any part of government. They think we are in the middle of some sort of criminal crackdown on terrorism. They will say the most wild, vicious things about President Bush, Republicans, or the religious right but come up short with Osama (he has confessed, Carole, if you would only listen) and gurgle on about proving him guilty at trial. This is what goes for being sophisticated.

She may not like it (or even realize it) but she is in a war declared not by us but by our Islamo-Fascist enemies. Instead of trying to project moronic liberal concerns on our enemy the sophisticated, complex Democrat ought to read what the enemy says. The enemy doesn't care about the poor, economic freedom, the environment or any other liberal concern. He wants to kill all of us who won't buckle to him.

When we have totally defeated our enemy, there will be time for show trials and executions. Osama can then walk the path of other war criminals. In the meantime let's talk about him like the butcher he is and view with suspicion American politicians who seem confused about who are enemies are.
-- Clif Briner

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