Grammarian To the Olympians

DAVE BARRY'S TO WIT

June 23, 1996|By DAVE BARRY

It's time once again for Ask Mister Language Person, the column in which we answer common reader questions that we make up concerning how to use big words irregardless of what they may or may not technically mean per se.

Today we are proud to announce that Ask Mister Language Person has been named the Official Grammar Column of the 1996 Summer Olympics. In that capacity we will be testing the athletes' urine at random for split infinitives and traces of illegal gerunds.

What about dangling participles?

You are always going to get a certain amount of that with healthy young people.

Please explain the correct grammatical usage of the phrase should of.

Grammatically, should of is a predatory admonition; as such, it is always used as part of a herpetological phrase.

Example: "Maurice never should of took no snake to no funeral."

What about the phrase all things being equal?

This phrase is used to add objectivity and fairness to a given statement. Wrong: O. J. is a scum toad. Right: All things being equal, O. J. is a scum toad.

What is the difference between an effort and a concerted effort?

An effort is just a normal effort; whereas a concerted effort involves a woman named Marge. Example: "After Marge set fire to his recliner, Phil started making a concerted effort to not get earwax on the remote control."

As you are aware, the lyrics to the old folk song "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" state: "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes; she'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes; she'll be comin' 'round the mountain; she'll be comin' 'round the mountain; she'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes." My question is: Exactly how old were those folks?

They were drooling in their oatmeal when they drooled.

Speaking of traditional songs, please explain the lyrics of the popular favorite "This Old Man."

These lyrics concern an old man who plays knickknack on various things belonging to the singer, starting with the singer's thumb, then moving to the singer's shoe, knee, door, hive, etc.

The old man plays knick-knack on the singer's hive?

Yes.

Why don't the authorities stop him?

Because he is Strom Thurmond.

Please define the word ire.

Ire is a corpuscular refraction that is used primarily by cowboys in conjunction with the word Bud'n. Example: "Bud'n I're fixin' to mosey to the corral and apply unguents to our hives."

What is a diphthong?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines diphthong as "a word that is used to form a good name for a rock band; e.g. 'Earl Piedmont and the Diphthongs.' "

Do you think that when Merriam Webster was a child, he got teased a lot about being named Merriam?

To this day he wets his bed.

Have we reached the part of Ask Mister Language Person where you present examples of high-quality language usage sent in by alert readers?

Yes, we have. Here they are:

Richard Gordon sent in a photograph of an extremely helpful Kentucky highway sign that states: When Bridge Overflows High Water Exists.

Becky Herzog sent in an article from the Dec. 18, 1995, Cincinnati Post concerning a Cincinnati Bengals player named Lee Johnson, who was moved by the outpouring of support shown by Cleveland Browns fans for their team. The headline is: Browns Fans Touch Bengals' Johnson.

Shirley Farnsworth sent in an article from the March 6, 1994, Memphis Commercial Appeal in which actress Gillian Anderson is quoted as saying that she feared she might lose her role on "The X Files" because the producers "wanted somebody leggier and somebody with more breasts."

How many breasts did they have in mind?

They probably wanted to match the standard set by the hugely popular "Baywatch" series, wherein Pamela Anderson Lee alone has at least seven.

Today's Tip for Aspiring Novelists: When choosing a title, try to come up with something that will really "grab" potential readers.

Weak: "The Death Corpse."

Stronger: "The Death Corpse by Stephen King."

Very strong: "The Death Corpse by Stephen King with Pictures of Pamela Anderson Lee Naked."

Got a question for Mister Language Person? He is not available.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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