Monday, January 28, 2013

Hang ‘Em High

A recent column in the Houston Chronicle by the estimable Leon Hale bore a headline proclaiming: “Year Can Begin Now that Calendar Has Been Hanged.”  I quickly scanned the column to learn what heinous crime could have been committed by a calendar to warrant its capital punishment by this barbaric means.  As it turned out, the calendar was guiltless and was not hanged at all—it was hung.
Since I am certain that Leon Hale knows his way around a grammar book as well as, if not better than, anyone else, I can only chalk this solecism up to some callow doofus on the copy desk (you have to wonder if they still have copy desks) who doesn’t know there is a difference between the two past and past participle forms of the verb to hang. I’ll let language expert Bryan Garner explain, since he speaks with such authority in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage:
“Coats and pictures are hung, and sometimes so are juries.  But criminals found guilty of capital offenses are hanged, at least in some jurisdictions.  But just because it’s a person doesn’t mean that hanged—which implies execution and near-certain death as a result of the suspension—is always the right word.  If a person is suspended for amusement or through malice, and death isn’t intended or likely, then hung is the proper word.”
Garner points out that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was hung upside down after he was executed, but he was not hanged.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is merely trying to hang in there.  Yes he’s trying—very trying.  These words are a case in point:
            If I am ever hanged, by heck,
            I'll turn into a nervous wreck.
            I’ll survive, I suppose,
            If I'm hung by my toes,
            But not if I'm hanged by my neck.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Just Come Live With Me, Dammit, and Be My Love!

The New York Times lamented in a recent article that there is not a completely satisfactory word to refer to either of two people who live together and are not married.  Wife, husband, and spouse are obviously out of the question, since they have specific meanings related to a state- or church-sanctioned unions. 

The Times article suggested that partner was “awful—anodyne, empty, cold”; lover too sexualized; boyfriend or girlfriend too youthful sounding; significant other too “1980s,” whatever that may mean; and special friend simply “ridiculous.”  As for POSSLQ the abbreviation coined in 1980 by the U. S. Census Bureau for “person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters,” it’s a bit unwieldy.  The Times quotes Charles Osgood’s whimsical quatrain: 
         You live with me, and I with you,
         And you will be my POSSLQ.
         I’ll be your friend and so much more;
         That’s what a POSSLQ is for. 

And, of course, POSSLQ is not useful for same-sex couples.

Now that seven million Americans live with a paramour who is not a spouse, it’s time to come up with a term we can all get behind. 

Not mentioned in the Times article is the word I have always favored to describe one in such a relationship: convivant, which seems to derive from the Latin con (“with”) and vivere (“live”).  The suffix –ant is Greek, by way of Old English, and means “one that performs (a specified action)” or “one connected with.”  If you wanted to distinguish between male and female, you might borrow from French and substitute the feminine ending –ante.

An Urban Dictionary entry says convivant was coined by British author Simon Winchester (who wrote a best-seller about the Oxford English Dictionary) on an NPR program in 2002.  But I came across the word (on an actor’s room request form for a national tour) in 1988, so it’s been around a good while.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has also been around a good while—correction, make that a “long” while.  There isn’t much about him that we would call “good.”  See for yourself:

         If you will be my POSSLQ,
         I promise I won’t jostle you;
         I shall be your apostle true,
         And not like some old fossil who 
         Imparts a dour and docile view.
         I’ll ply you with some wassail, too!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winners and Paloozas

An op-ed article by the pundit David Brooks of The New York Times appeared under the headline “Social Science Palooza III.”

Not everyone, myself included, immediately grasped the meaning of the headline (the meaning of the article itself is another question, not to be dealt with here).  What, you might wonder, is a palooza? 

You probably know the word lollapalooza, which is is a "remarkable or wonderful person or thing." It dates at least to 1896 in American English, and is of uncertain origin, although the Online Etymology Dictionary attributes it to "fanciful formation," whatever that may mean.

Old reliable Wikipedia provides this helpful information: The word—sometimes alternatively spelled and pronounced as lollapalootza, lalapaloosa, or lallapaloosa (the last by P. G. Wodehouse)—dates from a late 19th- or early 20th-century American idiomatic phrase meaning "an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event; an exceptional example or instance." In time the term also came to refer to a large lollipop.

Now for palooza: lollapalooza has given rise to this slang suffix that is used in the same way as other suffixes like “a-thon,” "a-go-go," "o-rama", etc. The suffix "a-palooza" is often used to imply that an entire extensive event is devoted to one subject, such as “Hip-hop-a-palooza,” “Crawfish-a-palooza,” “Quantum physics-a-palooza,” and so on.

Wiktionary has the word palooza, as follows: from Lollapalooza, a music festival, from lallapalootza [origin unknown, probably a fanciful formation], a neologism meaning "an exaggerated event."

The Urban Dictionary lists palooza with the following user-provided definitions: "an all-out crazy party”; “a very drunken extravagant party with the host’s name attached, e.g. Billapalooza”; "a big Norwegian festival"; or “a hopelessly love-lorn, insecure person, desperately seeking a relationship, but forever facing rejection." (I think there is some confusion in that last definition with palooka.

The headline on Brooks' column would seem to suggest that it is a variety of vivid miscellaneous information about social sciences, and that it is the third such roundup that Brooks has authored.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is noted for his “Drivel-a-paloozas,” of which the following is a representative example: 

            The New York Times costs several bucks. 
            At first, you might exclaim, “Aw shucks, 
            That’s not as much dough as it looks, 
            To get essays by David Brooks, 
            And all the other learned sages 
            Who fill the Times’s Op-Ed Pages.” 

            But once you’ve coughed up all that jack 
            Then you may want to get it back, 
            When you have found you’re truly pissed off 
            To read a piece by Nicholas Kristof, 
            Or if you learn that Maureen Dowd 
            Is much too liberal and too loud, 
            And furthermore, that guy Bill Keller 
            Is really something less than stellar, 
            Not to mention that Ross Douthat 
            You’d like to run off at the mouth at, 
            And you simply cannot bear a 
            Word that comes from Joe Nocera, 
            Or thoughts that seem a little loony 
            From former epicure Frank Bruni, 
            And you’re affected by Gail Collins 
            The same way as you are by pollens, 
            And realize that Charles Blow 
            Writes nothing that you want to know, 
            And that Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman 
            Are columnists you just don’t need, man. 

           That’s when you may feel it’s outrageous 
            You paid big bucks for Op-Ed Pages, 
            When you don’t like a single pundit. 
            As for your dough--they’ll not refund it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

In the Beginning

At this season of new beginnings, it’s appropriate to ponder this profound question: How often do you read a book’s preface?  Or its foreword?  Or even its introduction, or its acknowledgments, not to mention the occasional prologue?  And why do we have all these different names for something that precedes the actual book?

Known dismissively in the book trade as “front matter,” along with dedications, tables of contents, and the like, these preliminary pieces of writing serve slightly different purposes, most of them unnecessary.

A preface, from the Latin praefatio (“something said beforehand”), is a statement, usually by the author, describing the book’s purpose, pointing out difficulties encountered in its writing (as if we cared), and also sometimes thanking (or blaming) people for their help.

Often the helpers are mentioned in a separate section known as acknowledgments, or, if you’re British, acknowledgements (with an extra “e”).

An introduction (Latin intro “inside” + ducere “to lead”) is similar to a preface, but usually has more substance to it with respect to the book’s subject.  It might even be written by someone other than the author. Induction is an archaic form of the word introduction and is sometimes used to mean a specific framing device for the main work, as exemplified by the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which sets up the premise for the action that follows.

A foreword, whose etymology seems self-evident but may be a translation of the Dutch voorwoord, is an introductory statement almost always written by someone other than the author—presumably, someone who will say nice things about the book.  A foreword is not to be confused with the word forward, although it very often is by ignorant doofuses.

Some books have several preliminary pieces, and when they do, the usual order is foreword, preface, acknowledgments, introduction.

If you wish to be fancy-schmancy with your vocabulary, you can call any of these pieces a prolegomenon, from the Greek pro (“before”) and legein (“to say”). This word is often shortened to prologue or even prolog, which means the same thing, and is usually applied to an opening section of a dramatic work that precedes the first act.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou always has trouble getting started when he writes, but once he begins it is very hard to stop him, or sometimes even to understand him.

            I read an astute prolegomenon
            That I thought was quite a phenomenon
            By a writer most gifted— 
            Till I learned it was lifted
            Word for word from the Paralipomenon.

Note: Just in case you’ve forgotten, the B. of B. B. wishes to remind you that Paralipomenon (from the Greek for “things omitted”) is the name given by the Roman Catholic Vulgate to the two Old Testament books known as Chronicles in the KJV.  (That rascal is such a font of obscure information!)