Monthly Archives: May 2009

Did passport really expire?


COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – What exactly is an expiration date? Much after the fact, I pondered that question following a hassling by a usually-friendly staff of customs-passport inspectors at the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark.

This is our third trip here. Our passports, acquired in June 1999, show proof of our visits to this area twice before, in 2006, 2008 and this year. The policy is for each visitor landing at Kastrup International to furnish proof of residency.

The economy has made some trans-oceanic travel skimpy, and after landing from a half-empty flight, we figured we’d breeze through the passport check. We were last in the line of about 100. My wife Bonnie stopped at a kiosk manned by a gentleman who welcomed her to the land of Hans Christian Andersen. He checked her photo ID and passport, stamped the booklet and sent her on her way. Continue reading

A murder of crows

In Edward Albee’s play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” George, the host at a late-night party, tells the guests about how faculty wives “gather at the downtown A&P like a bunch of geese.”

The guest “corrects” George by saying the proper term is “a gangle of geese, not a bunch.” Well, the host, played by Richard Burton, points out that if the guest is “going to be cute and ornithological about it,” the correct term is “gaggle, not gangle.”

Which makes us ask, what do geese do when they congregate to qualify as a gaggle? In flight, geese generally constitute a flock or a skein, but on the ground, they’re a gaggle.

Nouns of assemblage, usually descriptive of fowls, give virtually no clue as to why it’s all right to refer to a herd of cows but not of lions. Lions hang out in a pride, and fish are in schools.

There’s a suspense movie, “A Murder of Crows,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., the title of which refers, of course, to crows but doesn’t explain what’s murderous about them. Could enough vultures, as opposed to crows, constitute a murder? Not likely, as vultures’ meals of choice have already been murdered and are now road kill.

Let’s examine some of the groups: Continue reading

‘Thank you.’ ‘No problem’

A few weeks ago, driving in Albuquerque, we noticed a couple — one steering, both pushing — who’d run out of gas close to a service station.

With my wife driving, I did the Good Samaritan regimen, hopped out of the passenger’s side to help them get their Chevette up the ramp to the gas pumps on Montgomery.

Now most people would be thankful for anyone, even a 69-year-old at the time, who agrees to add a few pounds to the pushing, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I was treated to some choice language (redacted here, in this family newspaper) that only irate out-of-gas Chevette owners can express.

They didn’t direct the invective at me; rather, they hollered around me. “I told you to fill up the f—— car before we left the house. But no-oo, you had to be Mr. Tight A–.”

“Why don’t you shut your pie-hole, you f——- b—-?” Continue reading

Promise: It’s between you and I

Sometimes even the experts simply have it wrong. I’m staring at a dozen grammar and style books trying to locate some of the most common errors people commit in writing and speech.

We concede that because people speak about 10 times faster than they write, the ear tunes out some — but not all — of the errors we hear. Because we have more time to read things, we can be more critical of errors in print.

Let me explain:

Now that I’ve turned 70, my short-term memory is not what it used to be. In fact, my short-term memory is not what it used to be. We often hear locutions like, “They gave the award to she and I.”

She and I? Hardly. They gave the award to her and me. Because such a sentence is fairly common, I checked some sources, trying to find an explanation. The first source, a yellowed, ‘60s-era newspaper stylebook, explained that people often use the wrong pronoun in feigning snobbishness. According to the editors of the stylebook, “she and I” sounds more high-falutin’ than “her and me,” and that’s why it’s used that way. Continue reading