Mr. Language Person swings his cudgel of language

September 30, 2001|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Welcome to another episode of "Ask Mister Language Person," the column written by the language expert who recently won the World Wrestling Federation Grammar Smackdown when he kneed William Safire right in the gerunds.

Our first language question comes from an extremely high federal official, who asks:

Q. What are the mandatorical parts of speech that is required to be in a sentence?

A. To be grammatorically correct, a sentence must have three basic elements: (1) A subject, which is a noun that can be either a person, place or mineral; (2) A verb, which is word that describes an action, such as "kung fu"; and (3) An object, which is a noun that weighs two or more pounds. Let's see how these elements combine to form this example sentence, written by Marcel Proust:

"Being late at night, Earl failed to check his undershorts for lipstick stains, which is why he was awokened at 6:30 a.m. by Lurleen whanging him upside his head with a object."

Q. Speaking of Marcel Proust, what can the letters in his name be rearranged to spell?

A. "Rump Locaters."

Q. I am a top business executive writing an important memo, and I wish to know if the following wording is correct: "As far as sales, you're figures do not jive with our parameters."

A. You have made the common grammatical error of using the fricative infundibular tense following a third-person corpuscular imprecation. The correct wording is: "As far as sales, your fired."

Q. I am a foreign person from abroad visiting the United States, and I would like to know how to speak so I can "fit in" with the locals.

A. This depends on where you are. For example, suppose that somebody says "hello" to you:

Correct response in the Midwest: "You can make a bet on that! It is not presenting any problems!"

Correct response in urban areas: "Are you talking? To me? Forget all about it, bagful of dirt!"

Correct response in the south: "I am fixing to experience a hankering for a pig organ such as chitterlings, you all!"

Q. I am a member of the United States House of Representatives, and recently, following an incident that was totally not my fault involving an underage Shetland pony, I was charged with "moral turpitude." My question is: Is that bad? If so, would immoral turpitude be good? Also, is there a rock band called "Marcel and the Turpitudes?"

A. There certainly should be.

Q. You know how, when you're waiting on hold for Customer Service, they have a recorded voice tell you that "your call may be monitored?" Who, exactly, may be monitoring it?

A. Keanu Reeves.

Q. In the song "I Shot the Sheriff," how come the singer keeps loudly announcing that he shot the sheriff, but he did not shoot the deputy? Is he in some weird municipality where it's a serious criminal offense to shoot a deputy, but if you shoot the actual sheriff, hey, no problem?

A. Your question is very important to us.

Q. Is it time to pad out this column with true examples of strong language usage sent in by alert readers?

A. It most surely is:

* Paul Briggs sent in an Associated Press article concerning a referendum to ban alcohol sales in Fairhope Township, Pa., in which a resident is quoted as making the following allegation about the town's only bar, Hillbilly Haven: "Some nights, I think they have those teriyaki songs."

* Marcia Berner and Charlie Dallas sent in a newsletter from the Musselman Funeral Home in Lemoyne, Pa., that has two front-page articles, one headlined "Cremation Around the World," and the other headlined, "Outdoor Grilling Tips."

* Ann Stanley sent in an article from the Winston-Salem Journal that begins: "An attacker shot and killed a Spanish newspaper executive seven times yesterday. ..."

* Dan Lothringer sent in an article from the Houston Chronicle that begins: "Texans used to enjoying a frosty brew inside their car may soon find themselves slapped with a hefty ticket, with a bill banning open containers of alcohol in cars speeding to the governor's desk."

* Sharon Canada sent in an English-language driver's manual for foreigners in the Republic of Korea, which contains this statement: "Drivers must not allow passengers to make noise or disorder such as dancing on vehicles to the degree of interrupting safe driving."

Q. Does that mean that a certain amount of dancing on vehicles is OK?

A. Yes, under the right circumstances, such as when the vehicle is speeding toward the governor's desk and everyone is singing teriyaki songs.

Today's tip for "professional" writers: When writing poetry, be sure to express angst.

Wrong: Jack fell down, and broke his crown.

Right: Jack fell down, and experienced a bunch of angst.

Got a question for mister language person? Speak directly into the newspaper. Keanu is monitoring you.

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