Grammar Question? Let's Us Talk


January 14, 1996|By DAVE BARRY

It is time once again for Ask Mister Language Person, the award-winning column. In this popular feature -- the only language column endorsed by both Hootie and the Blowfish -- we answer your common questions about grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, entomology and the U.S. Tax Code.

Today, as is our custom, we will start with our first question, which is:

Q: How come you always refer to yourself in the plural?

A: We have a huge intestinal parasite.

Q: Should people who cannot grasp the difference between "it's" and "its" be allowed to vote?

A: No.

Q: What about people who say "Between you and I"?

A: We favor execution without trial.

Q: Like most people, I would like to use the words "parameters" and "behoove" in the same sentence, but I am not sure how.

A: According to the Oxford English Cambridge Dictionary Of Big Words, the proper usage is: "Darlene, it frankly does not behoove a woman of your parameters to wear them stretch pants."

Q: As an attorney, I wish to know the correct legal way to say "I don't know."

A: There is no legal way for an attorney to say this.

Q: Thank you.

A: That will be $400.

Q: What is the proper format for a formal wedding invitation?

A: A formal wedding invitation should come in a squarish envelope, inside which should be several increasingly small envelopes accompanied by some sheets of what appears to be Soviet Union toilet paper. Also, there should be various cards on which all the numbers are spelled out, as in "at Four O'clock on the Seventeenth of June, Nineteen Hundred Ninety Six" and "Two Hundred Ninety Eight Harbour Oaks Manour Court Drive Terrace, Next to the Seven-Eleven." This information should be written in a high-class style of penmanship so difficult to read that many guests show up in the wrong state.

Q: Please quote, in its entirety, a Washington state news item from the Oct. 31 issue of USA Today, sent in by alert reader Mary Louise Flanneary.

A: Certainly: "TACOMA -- Fish and Wildlife Services scientists plan to kill about 40 stocky, black sea ducks called surf scoters around Commencement Bay to find out why their numbers are declining."

Q: How can the public assist Fish and Wildlife Services with this effort?

A: Presumably the public, if it sees any surf scoters while motoring, should run them over.

Q: Did the Nov. 5 issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch run a help-wanted advertisement seeking applicants for management positions with a national restaurant chain?

A: Yes.

Q: What, exactly, did the headline say?


Q: If you do a column consisting primarily of random comical news items sent in by alert readers, do you still get all the money?

A: Yes. Here are some more:

Bill Jackson sent in a news item from the Nov. 3 Kansas City Star, which begins: "A small fire blamed on flaming croutons damaged a south Kansas City restaurant early Thursday morning."

Nando Amabile sent in a photo caption from the Oct. 9 Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News, which begins: "Conlee Elementary School students dissect sheep eyeballs during Family Fun night."

Kevin Cox sent in a sports story from the Nov. 5 Indianapolis Star, which begins: "Quarterback Jim Harbaugh put his tender groin through a light workout Saturday."

Kathleen Ganzlin sent in an obituary from the Oct. 5, 1994, Wisconsin State Journal, which states that the deceased died at local hospital "after a long courageous battle with doctors."

Edward Tannen sent in a wedding story in the Jan. 9, 1994, Florida Times-Union, which quotes the bride as saying: "I was balling hysterically until I got up to the altar with Stephen."

Q: Let's hope she got it out of her system.

A: Yes.

Q: Sheep Eyeballs would be a good name for a rock band.

A: So would Flaming Croutons.

Today's tip for television news personalities: In planning the spontaneous on-air banter that you engage in with the other news personalities between stories, make sure that the "mood" of the banter is appropriate to the news story immediately preceding:

Wrong: Ha ha!

Right: Those flamethrowers are nothing to fool around with, Ted.

NB Got a question for Mister Language Person? We didn't think so.

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