Friday, August 27, 2010

Here lies a liar

I can't remember where I obtained the little pocket-size book, "Everybody's Book of Epitaphs: Being for the Most Part What the Living Think of the Dead." But it is entertaining to read the epitaphs found on tombstones in English cemeteries.

Like this one from the Berkeley Churchyard:

Here lies an editor!
Snooks, if you will;
In Mercy, Kind Providence,
Let him lie still!
He lied for his living, so
He lived while he lied.
When he could not lie longer
He lied down and died.

A number of tombstones carry variations of a bitter widow's lament:

He lied while he lived
And dead he lies still

And a few widowers got their shots in, like this one from Selby, Yorkshire:

Here lies my wife, a sad slattern and shrew,
If I said I regretted her, I should lie too!

Friday, August 20, 2010


Kids' ears

Sometimes what we say is not what they hear. The following comments are taken from a thread on a friend's Facebook page:

Gavin told me that his bus driver told him that they sit in "science seats." It took me just a second to realize that she was discussing assigned seats on the bus! Funny boy.

Josh referred listening to "Rap City" instead of Rhapsody today ... those 5 year olds!

When Kathleen was in kindergarten, she told me that she learned about gutters in school — the ones that cows have.

Heidi once had a guest speaker in her Lutheran school classroom tell the story of Bert the Troll. The mother of a boy with a speech impediment marched into her classroom the next day demanding to know why she was teaching fourth graders about birth control.

Speaking of kids

Did you catch the story in The Paducah Sun about the students instructing the instructors? Teachers at Heath High School will attend sessions on how to use their new iBook computers. The instructors will be high school students.

Hope the student-teachers are patient. The brains of geezers (all those over 30) just aren't as pliable as brains of teens.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

There was a grammarian

James Kilpatrick died Aug. 15, three months shy of his 90th birthday. He was best known for his conservative commentary in newspaper columns and on the "Point-Counterpoint" segment of 60 Minutes. After the death of his wife, sculptor Marie Louise Perri, in 1997, he married liberal columnist Marianne Means. It would have been a gas to sit in on their dinner conversation.

Later in life he became better known as a grammarian. He wrote a column on English usage called "The Writer's Art," as well as a book with the same title. His books also included "The Ear is Human: A Handbook of Homophones and Other Confusions" and "Fine Print: Reflections on the Writing Art."

Here's a sample of his writing on language from a June 2008 column, selected because it echoes one of the constant nags of Sun executive editor Duke Conover:

"In the writing game, everybody has to have an irk. Am I being fastidious or merely fussy in my irk against 'there'? A few weeks ago The New York Times' editorial writers backed repeatedly into their morning lectures.
"'There is a lot of talk that Sen. Hillary Clinton is now fated ... There is a lot that Senators Clinton and Obama need to be talking about ...' 'There is no doubt that President Robert Mugabe's henchmen have used ...'
"The yawing or introductory 'there' is an ancient device, not to be condemned out of hand. All the same, a sentence often will be improved by backing up and starting over: 'Some observers contend that Sen. Hillary Clinton ...' Or, 'Senators Clinton and Obama need to talk about ...' Let us trim our shrubbery."

Duke would take it a bit further. He doesn't like "there" anywhere. If you write, "The team is not there yet," he will ask, "Not where yet?"

I admit I'm not so rigid about "there." But then, I have that luxury. Duke is herding cats. I am not. So I take refuge in Kilpatrick's words: "The yawing or introductory 'there' is an ancient device, not to be condemned out of hand." Duke, of course, would emphasize: "... a sentence will often be improved by backing up and starting over."

We agree, however, that your writing will be improved if you avoid "there" where possible.