Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I have a grammarian ax to grind.

(Those who don't have an abnormal obsession with words and syntax should feel free to stop reading now.)

I have many pet peeves: people who drive for miles in the passing/turning lane without ever actually passing or turning, whistling in the workplace, telemarketers.

My biggest pet peeve, however, involves the incorrect use of pronouns after a preposition.

(Seriously, it's OK to stop reading.)

I happened across the prepositional phrase "between he and I" in a quote a few weeks ago during a night on the job.

I shuddered. Then I fumed.

It's wrong, as anyone who passed the second grade should know. It's also either self-important, as though the speaker feels he or she is above using the lowly words "him" and "me," or a sign of an inferiority complex, as if the speaker is concerned that others will think he or she is ignorant.

And such flagrantly incorrect grammar is ubiquitous in television and movies, only reinforcing its use.

To me, it's fingernails scraped across a chalkboard.

From the book "Woe Is I," Chapter 1 "Therapy for Pronoun Anxiety:"
I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the seeds of the I-versus-me problem are planted in early childhood. We're admonished to say, "I want a cookie," not "Me want a cookie." We begin to feel subconsciously that "I" is somehow more genteel than "me," even in cases where "me" is the right choice - for instance, after a preposition. Trying too hard to be right, we end up being wrong. Hypercorrectness rears its ugly head!

The book continues:
I can hear a chorus of voices shouting, Wait a minute! Doesn't Shakespeare use "I" after a preposition in "The Merchant of Venice?" Antonio tells Bassanio, "All debts are clear'd between you and I, if I might but see you at my death." That's true. But then, we're not Shakespeare.

Indeed we are not.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Some of the words Glenn Beck uses and the ideas he espouses are admirable ones. He speaks of goodness, of righteousness. He speaks of personal freedoms and of optimism. Unable to keep his patriotic emotions from getting the better of him, he speaks of love of country. 

So why do I feel that when the cameras turn off, he morphs into a modern-day Lonesome Rhodes? 

If you haven't seen "A Face in the Crowd, " a 1957 movie starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal, you can't get the reference. Griffith plays Rhodes, a hobo-turned-cult personality who rises from utter irrelevance to become a power in the country, culturally and politically. 

When he's on-air, he's affable, a self-effacing pitchman with common-man ideals. 

But when the cameras stop rolling, he's a power-mad con artist with no respect for the people who hang on his every word and buy whatever he tells them to buy: products and ideas and people. 

"I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force ... a force!" 

"This whole country's just like my flock of sheep! ... Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers -- everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. ... They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. ... You just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president ..."
When I consider other people, it is in my nature to eschew cynicism. I look for, and expect to find, the good in human beings and in their intentions. I believe that the benefit of the doubt is the crux of a workable society.
So why do I harbor such suspicions about Beck? Why the perceived ulterior motives of a truly dangerous bent? Why can't I shake the feeling that, deep down, he's a snake-oil salesman?
Like Lonesome Rhodes, Beck is a pitchman, but being paid to shill for a product is hardly new or nefarious. He's unbendingly fiscally conservative, which I respect even if I don't necessarily agree with. He's a recovering alcoholic, but I admire those who confront their demons and work every day to keep them at bay.
True, Beck has offered plenty of bizarre fodder to raise suspicions: likening Al Gore to Hitler (in a much less genocidal way, of course), comparing stem cell research to eugenics, pondering on-air whether he could kill Michael Moore or maybe hire a hitman to do it instead ...

The chalkboard scribble is also far from comforting.

But, honestly, such drivel isn't what makes me want to pull back the curtain to get a real look at the Wizard; at least in those odd statements, I felt Beck was being truthful with the American public about his feelings and beliefs.
I'm much more fearful of his seemingly innocuous statements.

I, too, love freedom. I, too, have great pride in and hopes for my country. I, too, am grateful for the many and continuing sacrifices being made on our behalf by our servicemen and servicewomen.

But unlike Beck, I know I don't have a stash of snake oil hidden in my closet.

Donald Duck meets Glenn Beck 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I recently watched the movie "Love Happens," with Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart (ehh film, though I do think Eckhart is a terribly underrated or, at least, often overlooked actor. But I digress). One quirky facet of the Aniston character was that she enjoyed finding obscure words and writing them on walls behind paintings in a hotel.

Now, I've never actually defaced hotel walls with words like "quidnunc," but I do recognize the impulse to discover and share such vocabulary. I am an admirer of esoteric terms (I've been known to read medical dictionaries for fun, which also feeds into another fascination of mine: Level 4 viruses. But, again, I digress). Mostly, however, I am a connoisseur of rarely-used and somewhat peculiar words that, in a more colorful world, would be of a more commonplace usage.

I suppose that's not going to happen unless quite talented screenwriters start supplying us with our daily conversations. Or Joss Whedon becomes ruler of the universe.

Until that day comes, here are just some of the marvelous words that actually have relevance in everyday life but I'm unlikely to hear:

mendacity, n., an instance of lying (thanks to Tennessee Williams, it's more familiar than it otherwise might have been)

perspicacious, adj., having keen mental perception and understanding

abattoir, n., a lovely-looking word that unfortunately means slaughterhouse (OK, most people don't encounter an abattoir often and have no need to utter the word, but how pretty is that term for such a bloody thing?)

malversation, n., corrupt behavior in a position of trust (how is this not widely used?)

quondam, adj., onetime, former 

pulchritudinous, n., beautiful (of course, if you tell a woman she's pulchritudinous, she might not appreciate it - onomatopoeia doesn't apply in this case.) 

rhabdomancy, n., the use of a divining rod for discovering subterranean water (Granny Clampett had the skill, although I never once heard Jethro call it that. And no, I don't know a single person who might need to use this in real life, but come on ... it's a really cool word.)

 quotidian, adj., daily; commonplace, ordinary, trivial

sybarite, n., a person devoted to luxury and pleasure (should have been used when Enterprise crew visited Risa)

onanistic, adj., (look it up)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?

My family got cable when I was barely a teenager. That summer, I discovered old movies.

I had seen vintage movies before, of course. Once a year, network television (we got NBC, CBS, PBS and - when the weather was right - ABC) rewarded us with some of the classics or, at least, family favorites: The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Sound of Music, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Ten Commandments, Mary Poppins.

But I didn't know of much else until cable television crawled into my little valley in Southwest Virginia.

Katharine Hepburn was a revelation. The Philadelphia Story. Bringing Up Baby. Woman of the Year. The African Queen.

Gracious, Bogart. Casablanca. The Maltese Falcon. To Have and Have Not. The Big Sleep. Key Largo - mustn't forget Lauren Bacall.

Cary Grant, the unsurpassed movie star. North by Northwest. Arsenic and Old Lace. To Catch a Thief. Operation Petticoat. Father Goose. Indiscreet. That Touch of Mink.

Oh yes, Doris Day. Her appeal was tremendous during what I dubbed my "Harlequin years." Pillow Talk. Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Send Me No Flowers. With Six You Get Eggroll. The Glass-Bottomed Boat.

Jimmy Stewart. Clark Gable. Audrey Hepburn. Grace Kelly. Spencer Tracy. Elizabeth Taylor. Tony Curtis. Rock Hudson. And Marilyn Monroe.

Their faces, their voices, the way they carried themselves. I was captivated.

Some Like It Hot. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It Happened One Night. Giant. All About Eve. My Fair Lady. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Sergeant York. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Bell Book and Candle. Sunset Boulevard. Cleopatra. How to Marry a Millionaire. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Rear Window. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Auntie Mame. Charade. Roman Holiday.

I reveled in women exquisitely dressed, men in crisp suits and hats, dazzling settings, danger and romance, charm and heartbreak, excitement and longing, humor and passion. The lives and events depicted in such films obviously were often mere illusion, but that fact merely nourished a young girl already harboring overwhelmingly fanciful notions.

Yes, reality came as quite a shock to that young girl.

But to this day if I happen to catch any one of those movies (and many others like them) on TV, I greet it with a rush of feeling like seeing a dear old friend I have missed for far too long.

What's the harm in a little fantasy?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't make me come over there ...

I work in a testosterone-heavy environment: the sports department of a regional newspaper. Including me, there are eight sports full-timers -- seven of the XY variety.

My official responsibilities are varied: story budgeting, copyediting, fact checking, headline generation, art selection and manipulation, page building. 

My unofficial duties, well ...

Peacekeeper. Hand-holder. Interpreter. Ego-stroker. Sounding board. Negotiator. Mother hen. If I may borrow an idea from "Frasier," I am the marshmallow middle that holds the hard cookies together. 

Please don't misinterpret me; I enjoy the company of the males of our species and get along well with them. In fact, I experience a freedom to be myself that I don't always feel when surrounded by women. 

And these are good guys. They are strong and conscientious writers, responsible employees, and well-humored men. 

But there are days -- infrequent days, fortunately -- when I realize the work portion of my life would be far simpler if I were allowed to order my coworkers to sit in the corner, facing the wall, until they learn to play nice. 

I'd give them ice cream after.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it

I love disaster movies. All kinds.
Sometimes I even prefer the bad ones to the good ones.

Aliens invading? Asteroids and meteors on the way? I'm there.
"Deep Impact" "Independence Day" "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (both incarnations) "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" "Night of the Comet" "Armageddon" "Day of the Triffids"

And the entire Earth doesn't have to be in danger. A single community is fine.
I adore "Tremors." My viewings of "Volcano" have surpassed double digits. "Earthquake," with Charlton Heston, Lorne Greene and Ava Gardner, is one of my all-time favorites.
"Dante's Peak" "The Poseidon Adventure" "The Towering Inferno" "Twister"

Mustn't forget the Earth Strikes Back sub-sub-genre: "The Day After Tomorrow" "Outbreak" "2012"

For the record, the Terminator and Alien series stand alone. Killer cyborgs out to eradicate or enslave the human population? Acid-for-blood beings from another world that implant humans as hosts for their offspring? Disaster of mind-boggling proportions and mesmerizing to me.

Here's where the veneer of paradox lies: I believe life is a blessing. If I try, I can find the positive in most any situation. Glass half-full, that's me.

So, why do I enjoy watching destruction rain down or vomit up on the unsuspecting populace?

Perhaps it's because, in the overwhelming majority of these movies, humankind prevails. People long at cross-purposes find common ground and work to save themselves and, more importantly, others like and unlike them.

In viewing disaster, I visualize hope.
Plus, cool explosions and stuff.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wait. I said what?

I read a tweet a few days ago that sent me off on a thinking binge. It concerned the use of the term "cotton pickin' " and what's perceived as its racist undertones. 

That never occurred to me. Not once before reading the tweet. 

(Lest there be a question, yes, I'm from the South and I'm fully aware of what that could connote.) 

That cotton-pickin' revelation brought to mind another term that, until college or perhaps later, I had used: Indian giver. 

The racist tone should have been apparent, I know, except for this: I always thought the phrase slammed white people. More specifically, the white men who ran the United States of America. 

Hand to God, I believed that the act of giving something to someone and then taking it back - "Indian giving" - was in reference to the fact that the U.S. government would allocate land to various Native American tribes, say "It's yours as long as this nation stands" and then, predictably, a decade or so later would say, "Hah, gotcha! Just kidding! Gimme it!" 

Now, of course, I know better. Nevertheless, when one of my well-meaning and equally liberal-white-guilty friends called me on the use of the term, I was stunned. 

So, the cotton-pickin' tweet sent me to ruminating until I could bear it no longer and looked online to see how racist I'd been this time.

What I learned: Cotton picking (or pickin' - from the South, remember?) is a general term of disapproval, of something that is troublesome or a nuisance.

Its origin: Cotton pickin' began life in the late 1700s and differs from the 19th-century Dixie term, "cottonpicker," in that the latter was derogatory and racist, whereas "cotton-picking" referred directly to the difficulty and harshness of gathering the crop. This didn't extend to the specific expression "keep your cotton-pickin' hands off me." This no doubt alludes to the horny, calloused (and usually black) hands that picked cotton. 

The article (found at www.phrases.org.uk, by the way) continued: 
While not originating the term, Bugs Bunny can claim to have done more to fix it into the language than the rest of rabbitkind, especially in its most often used form "Wait just a cotton-picking minute." There's an example in "Bully for Bugs," 1953: "Just a cotton-pickin' minute, this don't look like the Coachella Valley to me!" 

It was an incredible relief to know that I'm not more racist than Bugs.