Monthly Archives: May 2010

Hale, Mary, Fuller, Grace

Sometimes it’s easy to identify with Gen. Halftrack, the forlorn company commander in the Beetle Bailey comic strip, who laments never receiving mail from the Pentagon.

On occasion, I receive no feedback to items in Work of Art. But last week, there was an avalanche. A number of people e-mailed with comments about the alumni/ alumnus matter and solved a dozen common expressions which had been put into high-falutin’ language.

All the responses came via e-mail, except for Betty Quick, who was quick to hand-deliver some of her own creations, listed below.

These are the people who wrote: Continue reading

A proud alumni

When Gilbert Sanchez was president of Highlands University, his office routinely presented some attractive lapel pins to employees who had also graduated from there. That included a large number of us.

When I received mine, I asked Sanchez whether I needed to share it with another, my wife maybe. “Why?”  “Well, the pin has the word ‘alumni.’”

So? “Well, alumni means more than one,” I answered. It’s those pesky words of Latin or Greek origin that confuse us English, non-Latin, non-Greek speakers. Those words, with their inflectional endings require us to say “gymnasia” for more than one gymnasium, or — better yet — a gym. Period.

It’s easier to say “cactuses” than “cacti.” And, on the subject of strange endings, the city of Emporia, Kan., means just a bunch of large stores. And Des Moines means “some monks.” But that’s French; let’s stick to Latin and Greek. Even in the august academic setting of Highlands University, we still hear people asking, “What is the criteria?” As we (should) know, “criteria” is plural, and it should be “criterion,” unless we wish to recast the sentence and ask, “What are the criteria?” Continue reading

What a difference a plate makes

“The reason I stopped you is that I noticed your license plate is lacking a comma between the word ‘Go’ and ‘Cowboys.’ Please exit the vehicle and provide proof you are in this country legally.”

“Well, I, er, intended to insert that comma today, sir.”

The dialogue was part of my dream, or rather, obsession now that I realize what a difference a plate makes — 24 little dollars. But that license plate, an official Highlands University prestige tag, has become a preoccupation and an attention-getter.

Briefly, I argue that the purple-and-white plate I recently got ought to read, “Go (comma) Cowboys.” In the case of a noun of direct address, anything else would indicate the difference between, say, “I’m eating turkey” and “I’m eating, turkey.” Continue reading

Speaking of coincidences . . .

“Six degrees of separation” is a concept that tries to show that everybody is connected to everybody else by just six steps.

The observation, of about 1994 vintage, is also called “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” the “Footloose” actor who’s been in just about every other movie. The task, when it became a game, would be to show a connection between any actor and Bacon.

Perhaps the other actor had a small part in a movie whose hairdresser was the third cousin to the chauffeur who transported the oldest aunt of Sandra Bullock to a cafe for a date with Kevin Bacon.

Non-actors as well try to connect with one another in the fewest steps possible. The practice is also called the Small World Syndrome. It’s fun.

Though these attempts occurred long before the Bacon hit the skillet, I’ve experienced similar coincidences that have made me wonder how, of all the people in the world, all the cities in the world, all the times in the world, I’d meet up with people I knew.

Let me explain: Continue reading