Archive for November, 2009

Ehhh! What’s Up, Doc?

November 26, 2009

I would predict that most of us fifty or older would quite readily be able to provide a context for the title I have used for this posting.  The theme will follow. . . . in my usual convoluted and perhaps distracted fashion.

Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse share the title of best all-time animated cartoon character.  I tend to lean toward Bugs.  He has more edge,  more sauciness, just more there to savor.  When he was created as a speaking character,  I’ve found,  his fabricators at Warner Brothers wanted him to have sort of a blend (using the voice of Mel Blanc) of a Brooklyn and Bronx accent, perhaps a “Flatbush accent.”  He also seems to me to present himself as a young wannabe with a lot of “street smarts” but surrounded by a bunch of rubes.

His nemeses and occasional sidekicks were two other memorable characters,  Elmer Fudd  and Porky Pig.  Both of these had speech impediments,  which would likely mean they couldn’t pass muster today in our era of “political correctness” and nannydom.

Fudd could not pronounce the “r” sound.  In a typical protest he would condemn the “wascally wabbit” for stealing his produce as Bugs would pose nearby, nonchalantly gnawing on the huge orange carrot that he had just plucked from Fudd’s garden.

Porky Pig’s problem was stuttering.  An example might be something like,  “What’s  huh-huh-huh-uh going on here?”  And he would usually appear at the end of the Loony Tunes cartoons (and later also the Merrie Melodies) proudly announcing,  “Th-th-th-th-that’s all, Folks!”

I use “Ehhhh!  What’s Up, Doc?” as my title for this posting because I am interested in the way in which the small word “up” has become such a big part of the English language.  It is an upstart kind of word,  often upbeat,  swimming upstream, always upstanding,  and typically upheld in many ways by writers and speakers. That its usage in the American English language  is probably much more widespread than its antonym “down” might serve to reveal quite a bit about the breezy optimism of the merican–male or female.

A book that was widely read by educators during the time I was ending my high school teaching career and later helping to educate prospective teachers had the intriguing title Up the Down Staircase (1965).  Written by Bel Kaufman,  the book was kind of like a “white paper”; it sought to demonstrate how the focus in public education on trivial matters and archaic discipline was detrimental, rather than helpful.  Ms. Kaufman’s title reflected a common rule in the larger public schools of New York City,  the dividing of stairwells or stairways into “Down” or “Up” traffic.  A student violating this policy of decorum could often face at least detention,  if not more.

A movie adaptation of the same title was released in 1967 and was considerably successful,  featuring Sandy Dennis as Sylvia Barrett,  a novice teacher of English,  who is spending her first year at an inner city school in New York City.

Much more recently has come out the highly praised and popular movie Up,   a story in lush animation of an old man (Carl) who is trying to regain his mojo after the passing of his beloved wife.  Each devoted to the other,  they had always planned to travel to South America, to enjoy a visit to the idyllic  “Paradise Falls.”  With an assist from a young scout named Russell (who is determined to get a pin on his uniform for “assisting an elder”),  and a quirky bird dubbed “Kevin” (though it turned out to be female),  Carl does manage to get his old house (which is threatened with removal by a development’s contractor) in the air using helium balloons,  and he does miraculously get his ungainly  steed to fly many hundreds of miles and to land safely and comfortably near “Paradise Falls.”

Up is an ideal title for this great movie (I confess to watching only about half of it on Ava’s DVD during her recent visit.  Her favorite animated movie, at age four, incidentally,  is Hercules (1997),  a song in which [“Go the Distance,” a Golden Globe nominee that year for best original song]  she has come to love and which she has memorized.)

I would also affirm that “up”  is probably the king of verb particles in English.  If you remember my posting a short while ago,  “A Homily on the Homely Preposition,” I made quite a to-do about not confusing the verb particle (in a two- or even three-part predicate verb) with the preposition.  An example of a three-part verb with particles is “put up with”as in the sentence,  “I cannot put up with anymore of your nonsense.”  Why do we know these three words constitute a predicate verb?  Because we can move the object of the verb around without violating the principles of syntax:  “I cannot put up with your nonsense anymore.” Compare a sentence with “up” as a true preposition:  “She decided to put the preserves up on the top shelf.”  To change the sentence to,  “She decided to put up the preserves on the top shelf” essentially is different as the meaning of the sentence would, at best,  be ambiguous.  And, we need to be aware that complications created by ambiguity might create a need for disambiguation. (I recently came across this last word and have been dying to use it.)

“Up,”  I would believe, is probably used much more often as a verb particle than it is a true preposition.  And it is most often found in an intransitive verb.   I RECOMMEND VERY HIGHLY that you find a speech by Kimberly Alyn that essentially is a catalogue of some sixty or so of these types of verbs.  You can find her three-minute-and-ten-second inspirational talk by either going to YouTube and entering her name or going to her Web site,

She will be telling you to stand up, speak up, wake up, listen up, sit up, and so on. . . . Quite a tour de force.

Add comments,  please!


Thank You, Jeff Thompson

November 20, 2009

Jeff Thompson’s second “attaboy” in the local press in the same day!  And well-deserved, might I add.

I’ve copied below my original posting,  along with his response and suggested correction.

  1. I would add that more English is being written today by more Americans than in any previous time: primarily due to the advent of “Twitter,” texting, Blogs and blogging, personal and social Web sites, word processing programs, and most especially electronic mail transmission and reception. At 75 years of age, I am once again a “babe in the cyberwoods.”
    So I will be content to keep “blogging” along and hoping that, occasionally, a crafty reader might have an “aha moment” or two.RJR
  2. Jeff Thompson Says:
    November 16th, 2009 at 4:11 pm   editYou know what Doc, for what it’s worth, I was taught in high school (late 1950s) that planes, boats and trains are “due,” that in your comments on the language above you might have said “…primarily because of the advent of…”

3.  It’s not been so very long ago that I did some review of the very matter that Mr. T. has brought to our attention. My resource was a handbook of usage and abusage that I brought to the attention of my fellow bloggers some time ago.  “The Grumbling Grammarian” (aka Robert Hartwell Fiske) has become a trusted source for explaining conundrums that emerge in the English langue and for using logic and experience to point out the best route.

For whatever reason, I have never been too particular about using “due to” in situations where some [perhaps most] grammarians and usage pros would avoid it and, when discovered, would malign it.  As I’ve used “due to” in the context above,  it would be considered a faux pas and, as Mr. Fiske suggests,  one should substitute either “owing to” or “because of.”

Here is the test Mr. Fiske suggests if one is not sure which route to take:  “If due to can  be replaced by attributable to, the phrase is perfectly  good; if not,  use because of or owing toBut, and huh?  It appears that attributable to would substitute very well for due to as I had used to.  [?] For a more detailed explanation,  consult Mr. Fiske’s handbook or Fowler’s Modern English Usage,  any edition.

Owing to having made this mistake and because of my carelessness,  I vow to use due to only where appropriate.

RJR                                                                                                  P.S. And an addendum,  owing to a visit from our daughter and Wunderkind granddaughter and because of my desire for a bit of a break,  I probably will not be back at my usual post and posting until midweek of next week.  Enjoy!

Tips of the Slung?

November 16, 2009

There is perhaps quite a difference between the malapropism (confusing words that are quite similar in sound and spelling but quite different in meaning) and metathesis (a technical term in linguistics relating to the transposition of letters and syllable in a word, almost always in speech).  The word “Spoonerism” has come into popular usage for the latter in honor and memory of the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) who became legendary for his gaffes or metatheses.  You are probably familiar with some of these.  You may also suspect that sometimes the Don may have used this device deliberately,  particularly after he became notorious,  maybe even famous, for doing so.  Here are some examples:                        (1) referring to the monarch Victoria as “our queer old dean”  (2) using “blushing crow” for “crushing blow,”  (3)  and this minor masterpiece as he was hectoring a troublesome student:  “You have hissed all of my mystery lectures .  You have tasted a whole worm.  Please leave Oxford on the next town drain.”

I’m not sure how to classify the following; it is not really a metathesis.  But it does illustrate how some bits of knowledge can be only partially digested.  The obituary of colorful former New Mexico Governor Bruce King (three separate terms non-consecutive) in today’s daily observes that he was gregarious,  always going from table to table to shake hands and make small talk.  But, the story goes on,  “He was also known for his malapropisms, once telling a lawmaker that the lawmaker’s proposal could ‘open up a whole box of Pandoras.'”

Of late, I’ve become quite fond of the long-running series NCIS,  which features quite an array of colorful characters.  They seem to nourish themselves on jabbing each other with verbal needles.                                                                       One of my favorites among these is Israeli Moussad-trained Ziva David,  played by Cote de Pablo.  One of Ziva’s traits (though she knows well five languages and is somewhat conversant in two or three others) is her mangling of slang or phrasal idioms.  Some examples:  (1) Speaking to her supervisor at NCIS HQ,  “You are a broken tape,  Gibbs.”  To McGee about his frowzy hair:  “It’s sticking up like a porcuswine . . . . Oh, wrong words . . . . a porcu . . . pig?”  (3)  “I feel like a donkey’s butt.”  McGee: “Donkey’s butt?”  Tony: “I think she meant horse’s ass, McGee.”  And one I picked up at my last viewing:  “He’s been working like a platypus.”  Tony:  “Don’t you mean ‘beaver'”?  [Thanks for the assist from an online source.]

Hope you are off to a good start this week!


Sharpening The Blue Pencils

November 12, 2009

Good wet and windy and quite chilly morning!

As usual (my padded cell may await),  I have been prone to discover interesting and likely awkward or even “forbidden” fruit in the local newspaper as I seek to find and pluck some interesting information or a provocative opinion.

But, before I begin to write, I have something important to say.  (I’m voicing Groucho a bit here.)

I relish and marvel at how creative and adaptive young children can be (1) as they first learn a language and (2) as they find ways to manipulate that language.  When our granddaughter was about two years old,  she asked her mother,   “Do dogs have jobs?”  Tough question to answer,  but her mother was able to give Ava a satisfactory answer,  “Some do.”

Here from the local paper is a squib quoting, late last September,  a seven-year-old boy who was having fun on the final day of the Cumberland County Fair:  “My favorite is winning games and getting lots and lots of rewards.  I’m a haver.  I love to have everything.”   Honest and completely understandable (though not yet in the dictionary, I think).  We all are probably “havers” quite often.  Are we not?

Here now are some stunners and pausers in recent times from the local daily.  Your task is to identify what is questionable and offer a correction:

(1)  A Police Captain is quoted as saying,  re an ongoing investigation,  “We want to make sure what may have went wrong.”

Each of the following two sentences have, strictly speaking,  the same error,  a missing “‘s.”  Supply the missing piece in each sentence and add a justification for the “correction.”        (2)  “.  . .  a grade fraud investigation at Terry Sanford resulted in one football player losing his eligibility.”  (3)  “These new threads were a gift from his mother, Sharhonda Harris,  to celebrate Damontre signing his national letter of intent to play basketball at South Carolina.”

(4) In a Sports story about Campbell University basketball star Jonathan Rodriguez,  a Belmont University coach,  Rick Byrd, is quoted as saying about Rodriguez,  “He’s pretty indefensible really . . . . We’ve never been able to defend against him with just one person.”  [Coach Byrd should also, however, be lauded for his creative and adaptive way with the English language,  here again speaking of Rodriguez:  “He’s sneaky-quick, and a phenomenal sneaky-great scorer against guys inside that are bigger than he is.”  Hey, Nike!  We need a line of Rick Byrd “Sneaky-Great Sneakers.”]

( 5,6)  Here is a “two-fer” [how’s that for creative?] from the popular “Cheers and Jeers” feature recently.  The complainer is having trouble getting damaged furniture replaced:  “The table were defected.  They were made aware of this and were suppose to replace my tables. . . . I need my tables!”  [No, the first solution would not be to add the vowel “a” in the middle of that verb.]

Show me what you’ve got!


A Bit of Antonymania

November 9, 2009

Hope you are having/will have a very nice week.  Weather continues to be moderate.  However, the drought intensifies.  Maybe “Ida”  will pay us a visit with some good rain.  But,  as I think Gene Smith notes, “Ida know.”

Much pain and suffering in our country and in our community this past week.  Let us honor our veterans while hoping their sacrifices are never in vain.

How about a little game with antonyms?   You know, words that are are opposite in meaning.  We’ll stick to nouns,  verbs, and adjectives.

(Sidebar:  some dictionaries do provide antonyms as well as synonyms in the definitions area,  but these are, from what I know,  little used today, if at all.  I would recommend that you, as a serious and still relatively young writer and reader,  try to acquire the most recent edition of Roget’s International Thesaurus.  Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) is obviously long gone, and yet his important legacy lives on.  As the most recent editor,  Robert L. Chapman, says in his preface,  “. . . Roget’s International Thesaurus can help you in countless ways to improve your writing and speech and to enrich your active vocabulary.”   Professor Readycure concurs and recommends.)

Don’t take the easy way out by adding or subtracting un- as a prefix.  For example, don’t make the antonym of “pleasant”  “unpleasant.”  In any event, you are restricted to choosing your antonyms from the random list of 20 in the first “Comments”  section.

I will give you a couple of days to find, from the random order  of words  in my “Comments” space,what you believe to be the best matches of the words opposite in meaning to fit in the “blanks.”  There are eight in the “Easy” category,  seven in the “Advanced” category and two in the “Bonus” round.

Should you get seven to ten right (without consulting a dictionary or a thesaurus) , Professor Readycure would anoint you as adequately literate.  If you get anywhere from eleven to fifteen right,  he would endorse you as highly literate.  If you get all seventeen right, Professor Readycure would send you to Ben Stein for further recognition.

You might wish to enter the contest via e-mail ( so as not to reveal your superior literacy to your fellows by giving them some freebies.  But there is honor among most scholars, if not among thieves.  Here we go!

1.  The opposite of “love”  is _________.

2.  The opposite of “light”  is ________.

3.  The opposite of “dawn”  is _________.

4.  The opposite of “full” is _________.

5. The opposite of “big spender”  is _________.

6. The opposite of “liberate”  is __________.

7. The opposite of “grasp”  is ___________.

8.  The opposite of “fall short”  is _________.

Here are the “Advanced” problems:

9.  The opposite of “altruism”  is __________.

10. The opposite of “exhilarate”  is  __________.

11. The opposite of “slow down” is ___________.

12.  The opposite of “advance”  is ___________.

13.  The opposite of “concise”  is ____________.

14.   The opposite of “exacerbate”  is ____________.

15.  The opposite of “drab”  is _____________.

And here are the two “Bonus” problems:

16.  The opposite of “plethora”  is ___________.

17.  The opposite of “litotes” is _____________.

NOTE:  Even though some of these words,  maybe even most, might have more than one identifiable antonym,  you must choose a word from the list of twenty (three are dead ends, obviously, thrown in just for an increased “entertainment value”) in the first “Comments” section.

Thanks for your time (I rather despise that line used following an interview).