Monthly Archives: August 2010

Take two iambs, call me in morning

What’s happening to our language? English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into South-East Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria. In human time, it hasn’t been around that long, but yet … but yet …

Let me explain:

I read Sunday’s Parade, a better-than-average publication when it comes to the use of the English language. But on the cover, next to a photo, it reads, “At Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C., Natalie Randolph is making history — as one of the nation’s only female football coaches.”

The problem is with the part-whole relationship, the words “one of,” but that’s contradicted by the word “only,” which ought to denote a bit of exclusivity. How can Natalie Randolph be both? She simply can’t be “one of” and “only” at the same time. The writer must mean “one of the few.” Continue reading

Obama lacks what?

This is a family newspaper, a publication that seeks never to offend its readers. Accordingly, when a public official expressed his contempt, a few years ago, toward the media, our page-one article simply used “a–.” The elected official had authorized the media to pucker up and then osculate a certain nether portion of his anatomy.

I believe people got the picture, even if we bowdlerized the more graphic word, which, by the way, appears in Christmas carols, including “What Child Is This?”

Now we have a, well, touchier issue, picked up by newspapers and other news outlets across the world. It seems that in a criticism of the way President Obama is handling immigration, his erstwhile opponent’s running mate, Sarah Palin, said he lacks the necessary equipment to deal with the issue, presumably, “like a man.”

I’m certainly no biologist nor psychologist, but I’ve always wondered why and how a pair of bodily objects determine how macho presidents and others ought to be. Continue reading

Why the hand inspection?

“May I see your hands, please?” Good grief! Is she coming on to me? I thought.

Instead, she rubbed what looked like a small, damp orange Wet One across my palms. “Now turn around.”

I did so, my anxiety increasing. “I meant ‘turn your hands around.’” I did that too. So the backs and the palms got swabbed, but what for? We’ll get into that later.

The woman, who used a line I hadn’t heard since Sadie Hawkins dances at Immaculate Conception School, spoke with a kind of eastern European accent. By her nametag, I could tell she was one of an army of Transportation Security Administration workers who keep our skies and passengers safe. The Sadie Hawkins allusion is what some girls in high school used to say when they wanted someone to hold their hands. Most of us didn’t hold hands on the first date, but that’s a topic for a future column.

Let me explain:

Jet-lagged after a recent 10-hour flight from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Washington, D.C., my wife and I were feted, along with hundreds of other travelers, from Munich and Vienna, to passport-and-baggage inspection at JFK Airport. Continue reading

Currency and language

PORTO, Portugal — Why can’t all countries agree on their currency? Why must travelers take along an MBA or at least a banking expert any time they wish to go beyond San Miguel County, or in our case, the U.S?

We’re preparing for a boat tour of Portugal, the last leg of a trip to Copenhagen where we will visit our son Stan’s family. The tour is a round trip, from Porto, in northern Portugal, back to Porto. It was my friend Pedro Carrico who encouraged me to travel to his homeland.

Pedro, a 2009 graduate of Robertson High School, spent a year in Las Vegas as an exchange student. When he learned of our plans to cross the Atlantic, naturally he wrote, with the hope that his family could meet mine. I brought a copy of a Portuguese-English dictionary, hoping it’ll help.

People who speak Spanish invariably say, “Oh, Portuguese is a piece of cake; if you can speak Spanish, you’ll get along fine in Portugal.” Not quite. Though there are strong similarities between Spanish and Portuguese, the difference — especially with the false cognates — can be glaring. Continue reading