Sunday, October 10, 2004

From.....I Own A College In A Dinosaur Parade

...I liked Father Pierce, and my conversations with him were relaxed and pleasant---nothing like some of his sermons. They were almost hell, fire, and brimstone in tone. He was becoming concerned---in the 1950s---about the direction of American Society. He railed against tight shorts on the girls and women, revealing blouses and dresses, promiscuity, unwed mothers (abortion was still under the table, as it were,) growing free sex, lack of loving husbands and fatherly presence, and any number of burgeoning moral problems. But he wasn’t a ranter. It seems he was something of a prophet about such ills. We now have to deal with all of them and more. But his sermons fell on mostly deaf ears, as society---including Middletown’s---marched down the road of increased “free” choice about everything. Father Pierce, who died years ago, would have been appalled at the lack of moral responsibility and free exercise of immature sexual and bodily choices throughout the world today. Just thinking of his possible sermons about divorce, abortion, living together, or stem cell research should be enough to make you quake in your boots---if you’re wearing any.

I was in college from 1963 to 1967, the height of the 60’s youth rebellion. Drugs and promiscuity were rampant among the college students of the country. Sit-ins and other protests covered the news pages. Some reached a violence not expected or seen before. Many students were against the Vietnam War and authority in general. They protested racism, sexism, injustices and perceived injustices. They became draft dodgers and moved to Canada. The 1968 Democrat Presidential Convention was hit with violent protests. The hard rock music festival in Woodstock in 1969 was rife with drugs and sex and violence. All students of the 1960s were painted with these actions, whether or not they participated. People still use the excuse today: “Well everybody did it back then!”

Well, they didn’t! I didn’t participate, and I don’t know anyone who did. The only student political gathering I was involved in was when Bobby Kennedy came to our campus. Everything was peaceful, and I remember being in the crowd and touching his hand. I say touch only because he didn’t do any shaking. His hand was like a limp noodle, and I suppose that was only to be expected of a popular politician. Just how many hands can one shake? And having to react to everyone around you doesn’t leave much time to relax your worn-out hand.

Drugs were not my style. I never took them in any form, and I never smoked a joint. Hard to believe? Well, it’s true. And I don’t think I was a wimp then or now. I’ve just never had the desire or need for any of them. Nor was I at Woodstock. I wasn’t even in the country at the time. I was in Newfoundland, Canada---as a Naval Officer, not a draft dodger.

We never used the word “wuss” or “wussy” during the sixties (a shortened combination of “wimp” and a body part.) But, you could be called a “wimp,” a “pansy,” or a “candy ass,” among other still prevalent colorful epithets. Beer was our only vice, and most of us didn’t get carried away with it. Why? I don’t know. I guess we had better things to do. Or maybe our rearing and education led to our being more responsible than the newsworthy others of the era. We weren’t among the marching rebels and protestors....

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Carb Wild


The food industry and advertising writers are on the national band wagon with lower carbohydrate foods. Since that often means less sugar, it’s really a good thing.

But, most important to our minds now is that the advertising writers still need a dose of English grammar in their writing.

Years ago, there was an advertisement for Winston cigarettes stating that “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Now most intelligent people knew that “like” was the wrong word, “as” being the correct one. And in later Winston commercials, there was an actor playing a college professor who corrected the jingle language as part of a commercial. I suppose the controversy gave the original commercials added life and product name recognition, and that's what an ad should do. I just think a similar result could have been attained with imaginative correct English. And anyway, most of us now wish that past cigarette advertising hadn't been so effective.

I don’t mean to single out Winston; it’s past commercials are just examples of the pervading poor grammar in advertising. “Damn the grammarians! Full ads ahead!” These words may not have been said, but the writers certainly embraced the concept. They have always been more interested in catchy phrases than in proper English grammar.

“Take Beano before, and there’ll be no gas.” The ad copy is correct, but the speaker on TV elides over the “r” in “there’ll” to make it sound like “they’ll.” The pronunciation isn’t correct, but apparently the powers-that-be believe it sounds better in the ad.

I remember a recent beauty product ad with the background of a released song. It’s also used in a restaurant ad. What I’ve heard is "I believe in mail call!" Only later, was I told the singer was saying "I believe in miracles.!" Every time I hear that commercial, I hear "mail call" and not "miracles." And this is so even after I was told the correct word.

Now, a perennial mistake in commercials is to parrot language incorrectly used in the mainstream---usually to shy away from being called sexist. The word “they” is not singular. When you’re referring to one person you should use he, she, it, one, etc.---and not “they.”-

In the past, the singular pronoun “he” was generally used to denote an unknown or undefined person. That’s no longer the case. Now people lazily and incorrectly use the plural pronoun “they.” Of course, simply rephrasing the sentence can generally avoid the problem, but apparently that’s too much work.

“Yes, your child is at risk. They will be….” “They” is simply wrong. A better phrase could be: “Yes, your children are at risk.. They will be…” See how easy that was. And the meaning remains true to the original idea. I mean, how many only children are there in American families anyway? The constant misuse of “they” really grates in my ears.

“Kevin Harvick’s pit crew trust one brand of battery…” says the announcer in a commercial. Of course, in the rush to misuse the parts of speech, there is no correlation between the singular subject and plural verb. “Crew” is a catchall word, like class, team, gang etc. It demands a singular verb. “Pit crew…trusts…” Just think about how it sounds.

Now to carbs. “Less carbs” may sound good at first, but it is wrong, and I think the writers should know it.

“Less” is a word that is applied to things that are measured by amount, and not by size, quality, or number: less butter; less courage; less flavor… These are “mass” nouns, in that you can’t really define or count their values easily. In the past, we used the word “fungible,” in that one part of the mass noun could be replaced by another with no problem. One wheat berry is the same as another in “grain.” One gallon of oil is pretty much the same as the next, and we count them in barrels of 55 gallons each. And in most cases, we don’t normally count the individual units, preferring the larger mass noun of “grain” or “oil,” counted in different forms such as bushels, barrels, or tons.

“Fewer” on the other hand, is used before a plural noun, such as cars, books, reasons, etc. These can normally be individually counted.

Thus you can have “less tonnage,” but “fewer tons;” “less shipping,” but “fewer ships;” “less oil,” but “fewer barrels;” “less manpower,” but fewer men;” “less fat,” but “fewer carbs.”

Don’t get me wrong. Some advertising writers do use correct grammar. My favorite salad dressing states it has “60% less fat, 50% fewer calories.” See, it isn’t hard to be correct.

I certainly don’t expect advertisers to suddenly sprout grammarian wings or the actors to speak with perfect diction, but it seems to me that a better handle on the English language in advertising could actually improve a message’s understanding. In that case, the listener doesn’t have to question his or her ears. A message in simple, everyday, correct English could reach the listener more quickly and effectively.

The English language is one of America’s unifying factors. When we all use it correctly, there can be less misunderstanding (or fewer misunderstandings) among (not between) our fellow citizens.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Fourth of July

Indeed, the Fourth of July holiday provides many memories. Chief among those is the memory of picnics with Uncle Tommy and Aunt Ethel. Mom and Aunt Ethel would talk the day away while Dad, Uncle Tommy and I would spend the day at pinochle---with or without a kitty, it didn't matter. We enjoyed it. There was familial bonding, and the holiday passed too fast. Mary Anne and Connie Anne spent the day at they're own activities. Young girls were young girls at the time, and I never worried about them---especially when they were close relatives.

The grilled hamburgers and hot dogs were only an addition to the important activities. We enjoyed them and we enjoyed the salads and specialties, but we didn't live for the food, we lived for the game.

And each game had a summary from all players. "I knew you had the ace of hearts, so I held back on the trump." Yes, only a few comments, but they ended each hand. And a new deal meant a new chance. The gambling instinct in all of us held bay.

O, how I miss those days of pleasure and gaming.

This Fourth of July will bring back the days of yore, and I wish they were still current. A young man with the familial adults in a pleasurable activity. It doesn't get any better.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Bicycling is sometimes better than walking...

I remember buying my first bike when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My Uncle Bill sold me his son’s old bike. It was little more than a chain and a frame, but he charged me 40 cents for it and roared with laughter when I asked about a guarantee. He gave me one: it was unconditional and would last for one hour after purchase. At the same time, he sold his daughter’s old bike (complete and in operating condition) for 10 cents to my little sister, even though she was several years away from being able to ride it. Dad paid, and Mary Anne loved the idea. She didn’t know what guarantee meant, and apparently, I didn’t know what color coordination meant. My finished bike was painted with yellow and orange stripes. After a few weeks of riding an embarrassed zebra, I was eager to save for a new one. I guess repainting it never crossed my mind.

My second bike was a new, red Columbia with basket, enclosed horn, and heavy fenders. It weighed nearly as much as a horse. Dad co-signed for me; Suresky’s Tire Center gave me credit; and I pedaled to the showroom every week to pay $2 (Mom claims it was $1.25) until I completely owned my bike. As expected, immediately after the final payment, it began to fall apart, starting with the horn.

But it did help me in delivering the afternoon newspaper. Most of the time I relied upon it. It helped me move from the Times-Herald to my customers, Saturday was best, as it was usually a thin paper. That was best. Easy to fold and easy to deliver. I hated the thick editions. They were heavy and impossible to fold for throwing.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

What's In A Name

As I pondered my Shakespeare Clerihew, I wondered. What kind of name is Shakespeare anyway?

After all, what’s in a name? Or in a few varying letters? William SHAKESPEARE (or Shaxberd, or Shaxpere,) the noted English playwright, was born in Stratford-On-Avon in 1564 (no record of his birthdate, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564, or May 7, 1564 in the current calendar,) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (or Elizabeth Tudor, or the “Virgin Queen,”) sister of Queen Mary (or Mary Tudor, or “Bloody Mary,”) and daughter of King Henry VIII (or Henry Tudor, or Monmouth) and Anne (or Ann) Bolen.

In 1582, Shakespeare (or Shakspere---his preferred spelling---or Shakspeare) married Anne (or Agnes) Hathwey (or Hathway, or Hathaway.) In 1583, the couple’s daughter, Susanna, was born, followed in 1585 by the twins, Hamnet (or Hamlet) and Judeth (or Judith.) Susanna lived to marry John Hall; Hamnet died at age 11; and Judeth married Thomas Quiney (or Quyny, or Queeny.)

Shakespeare’s (or Shagspere’s) business investments included a shared interestwith his friend in the 1599 (or 1595) building of the Globe Theater. Shakespeare’s (or Shake-speare’s) plays were then presented at the Globe---before it burned down during a performance of “Henry VIII” (or “All Is True) in 1613. Apparently, the roof (or eaves) caught fire when a cannon was set off in Act I, Scene IV.

Then, in later years there were some “scholars” who claimed Shakespeare’s (or Shackespere’s) real name was Francis Bacon (or 1st Baron Verulam or Viscount St. Albans) or Christopher (or Kit) Marlowe. And, to simplify our historical research, also born in 1564 in nearby Rowington was a William Shakspere (or Shaxpere,) a soldier and malt seller---but it was never determined whether or not he could read or write or enjoyed any of his namesake’s plays. To add to our merriment, another William Shakespeare (Or Shakspeare) was drowned in the river Avon in 1574.

Perhaps, the latter’s ghost really did the writing, giving veracity to the childhood “factoid” that Shakespeare’s efforts were really written by another person with the same name.

Topaz from Cottage Street

Sunday, May 30, 2004


This is my first stab at a Blog, so how do I start? I think I'll just add one of my alternate Clerihews. Do you know what a Clerihew is? Light and humorous certainly. It basically consists of "two couplets of unequal length often with complex or somewhat ridiculous rhymes," and it presents a comic bio snap of a famous personage or historical character. Although invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, it was popularized by his lifelong fried, G.K. Chesterton. Enough for one day!

William Shakespeare
Always shakes beer;
He wrote a lot
On the chamber pot.