Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Possessives -- Possessed by Satan?

Style guides' "helpful" advice. Behold pure evil!

Chicago Manual of Style
James's words
James' sake
James's seat

Associated Press Stylebook
James' words
James' sake
James' seat
The boss's words
The boss' sake
The boss' seat

Strunk & White's The Elements of Style*
James's words
James's sake
James's seat
Jesus' words
Jesus' sake
Jesus' seat

* As I've noted here, Strunk and White have less authority than these other two.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional series on words I'm looking up)


n. The uncontrolled, often obsessive use of obscene or scatological language that may accompany certain mental disorders, such as Tourette's syndrome. -- American Heritage Dictionary

Root: Greek "lalia," meaning "babbling" or "meaningless talk"

Prefix: Greek "copro," meaning "dung, excrement, feces"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bogus Usage Assertions (First in an occasional series on bogus usage rules some people assert)

You can't use "hopefully" to mean "I hope" or "it is hoped

"Hopefully, I'll see you there."

adv. 2 it is to be hoped that -- Webster's New World College Dictionary

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional series on words I'm looking up)

Webster's New World College Dictionary:


n. an adherent of Islam


n. an advocate or supporter of Islamic, esp. orthodox Islamic, political rule

* * *

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:


n. 1. also Moslem. A believer in or adherent of Islam

"Islamist" (sub-entry of "Islamism"); "Islamism"

n. An Islamic revivalist movement, often characerized by moral conservaatism, literalism, and the attempt to impement Islamic values in all spheres of life. 2. The religious faith, principles, or cause of Islam.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Real Top 10 "Simpsons" Episodes

Vanity Fair has just published a list of its top 10 Simpsons episodes. Isn't that adorable? It's like the New Yorker running a list of the top 10 grunge bands (you GO, Osmonds!).

Step aside, Vanity Fair, and let a real fan tell you which Simpsons are the top 10.

10. Treehouse of Horror IV -- Season 5. Homer sells his soul for a donut; spoof on Bram Stoker's Dracula. Highlights: Hell's "Ironic Punishment Division," in which Homer is force-fed thousands of donuts -- and keeps saying, "More, please." Homer, when asked whether something seems funny about Burns (secretly Dracula), responds: "Yeah, his hair looks so queer."

9. Homer the Great -- Season 6. Homer joins a fraternal organization called the Stonecutters. Highlights -- lyrics to the Stonecutters song include, "Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do!"

8. A Streetcar Named Marge -- Season 4. Marge stars in a musical production of "Streetcar" -- which has a happy ending. Highlights: Lyrics to the musical's main theme call the city of New Orleans, among other things, "brackish"; Apu as the paper boy; the final number -- a rousing, happy show tune proclaiming, "You can always depend on the kindness of strangers!"

7. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer -- Season 8. Homer eats a chili pepper that sends him on an acid-like trip. Highlights: Surreal visuals of Southwestern landscape. Homer's comment when his spirit guide says Homer must learn a lesson: "If it's about laying off the Guatemalan insanity peppers, I'm way ahead of you."

6. Homer's Barbershop Quartet -- Season 5. Beatles spoof in which Homer is in a wildly popular barbershop quartet (hey, something had to fill the gap while the world awaited the arrival of "Achy, Breaky Heart.") Highlights: To come up with a band name, Principal Skinner says they need something "that sounds less funny every time you hear it." Thus were born the B Sharps. Homer on Dexy's Midnight Runners: "You haven't heard the last of them."

5. Children of a Lesser Clod -- Season 12. Home on disability, Homer begins his own daycare center. Highlight: Arnie Pie's narration of a televised high-speed chase after Homer abducts the children in a truck then crashes. Kent Brockman: "Arnie, Arnie: How are the children?" Arnie: "I can't see through metal, Kent!"

4. Flaming Moe's -- Season 3. Moe takes credit for Homer's drink recipe and gets rich. Highlights: Homer in the rafters as a spoof of "Phantom of the Opera." Graphics accompanying the takeoff on the "Cheers" theme.

3. Little Big Mom -- Season 11 (One of Dan Castellaneta's favorites as well). After Marge is injured in a skiing accident, Lisa takes over the household. Highlights: Homer loses control while skiing and, in trying to remember his skiing lesson, can't blot out the image of Ned Flanders' taut, wiggling bottom in a skin-tight ski leotard. Homer cries out, "Stupid sexy Flanders!"

2. A Fish Called Selma -- Season 7. Selma learns her marriage to washed-up movie star Troy McClure is a sham to resurrect his career. Highlights: Troy lands a part in a musical version of "Planet of the Apes," in which the song "Rock Me, Amadeus" is adapted as "Help Me, Dr. Zaius."

1. Behind the Laughter -- Season 11. Mock VH1 documentary examining the rise of TV's first family. Highlights: Most of the narration. For example, in recounting the story of Homer's desire to create a TV show, Marge says, "So I told him: Do it! (Bleep) or get off the pot." Then, cutting to a shot of Homer working at a typewriter, the narrator says, "And (bleep) he did."

Honorable mention: Marge Gets a Job; Simpsons Bible Stories; Rosebud; Who Shot Mr. Burns? Selma's Choice; Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk; 22 Short Films About Springfield; Weekend at Burnsie's. Whatever recent episode it was in which, when it was pointed out that Jesus wore sandals, Homer said something like, "Maybe if he wore better shoes they wouldn't have caught him."

Friday, July 6, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional series on words I'm looking up)

"Ipso facto" (Latin)
by that very fact -- Webster's New World College Dictionary
noun -- by the fact itself; by the very nature of the deed: "to be condemned ipso facto." -- Dictionary.com

Interestingly, Webster's doesn't say what part of speech it is, but Dictionary.com does. It calls it a noun, but uses it in an example in which it seems to be more of an adverb -- reinforcing my theory that all this language stuff is either 1. the blind claiming they can see as they lead the blind, or 2. a conspiracy to make us all feel stupid.

Indeed, when I turn to a third source, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, I see it dubbed an adverb, reinforcing my other theory: I'm good.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Beware the Ides of June

Ever since I was a little girl, I've had an old lady name.

Family lore has it that my father wanted to name me Joan. My mother, having a twin sister named Joan, was perfectly horrified by the idea, and pulled out of her backside the first old-timey name should thought would pacify him. "Uh, how about June?"

And thus was born a June that blustery March day. Sure, with just a little more effort they might have been able to come up with a more appropriate name for a baby born on St. Patrick's Day. But on the other hand, with just a little less effort, I could have ended up with the name Moremorphineplease. So I'm not complaining about having an old lady name.

Yet since about the thousandth time I heard someone say, "Oh, I have a great aunt named June!" I've been waiting for my name to come back into vogue.

Recent name trends have given me hope: Emma, Isabelle, Jane, Kate -- they were all old lady names, too. Now they're the starting lineup for every AYSO team in America. Then, the year before last, I dared to let my hope bubble to the surface as I sat in a movie theater listening to a whole auditorium full of actors chant, "June! June! June! June!" in the hit movie "Walk the Line."

So I finally decided to look into it. Landing at a Social Security Administration website that compiles the top 1,000 baby names for each year, I finally faced the unpleasant reality.

Yes, June was a very popular girls' name, ranking number 39 -- in 1925. It's been plunging like Oleo sales ever since, ultimately falling out of the top 1,000 in 1987. No sudden resurrection in 2005 or 2006. No chance that I'll one day be as hip as an 80-year-old who today is named Brittany or Jenna or Amber.

Last week I was in the cell phone store, where the twentyish young woman looking up my account asked me my name.

"Oh, I've never heard that name before," she said.

I'd hoped she was talking about my last name. But no, she meant my first.

"Yeah, it used to be really popular," I told her. "But those Junes are all dead now."


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