Monthly Archives: April 2014

Let’s not dumb it down

Without hesitation, I declare that no person had a bigger positive influence on the English language than William Shakespeare, whose birthday was believed to have been April 23, coincidentally, also the date of his death.

But this isn’t going to be a pep talk on Shakespeare; rather, it’s a lament.

Let me explain:

Daniel Burnett, secretary of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit dedicated to academic excellence, recently wrote that Shakespeare studies are virtually non-existent today.

The headline to Burnett’s opinion piece that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal read “It’s Shakespeare’s birthday. Who knew?” And to that we might add, “Who cares?” Continue reading

Was it payback time?

On the wall of the office of long-time Highlands University department secretary Jean Greer was a framed photo that showed a lone goat atop a craggy mountain. The message beneath it was, “I’m so far behind, it looks like I’m w-a-y ahead.”

That was years ago, when I worked there. I’m reminded of Amtrak and its penchant for tardiness. Why doesn’t the government-subsidized railway company simply adopt this slogan: “We’re always prompt, no matter how long it takes”?

By contrast, the much-criticized Rail Runner, which hooks Santa Fe to Albuquerque and parts south, runs like clockwork. Having relied on the ‘Runner for many trips, I’m amazed at its punctuality. On numerous occasions, when taking my grandson and namesake to Santa Fe to catch the rails to Albuquerque, it and we arrived just in time.

But once, driving to the South Capitol stop, we arrived two minutes late, but the train waited for no man or woman. The second gamble was to try to head off the train at the next stop, a few miles south. That worked: no speeding tickets; in fact, no speeding. Continue reading

Lack toast . . . and tolerant

On a trip last weekend to Missouri, my wife and I were among the last breakfast eaters on the Amtrak unit, their probably having run out of items on the menu. I chose toast with my omelet but received a (not-too-shabby) croissant instead.

The waitperson explained that earlier diners had consumed the railway’s supply of toast and therefore, all they had to offer were the croissants. “We lack toast,” the waitress said, in a manner that seemed as if she’d said it before and was expecting a cute reply. That gave me an opening to say, “Well, I’m tolerant.” Almost as if we’d rehearsed the dialogue, we put together “Lack toast and tolerant,” which is the way some people render the condition of being “lactose intolerant.”

That was good for a chuckle. It also triggered questions as to why today my consuming ice cream often leads to an hours-long belch-o-rama within my intestines. Am I “lack toast and tolerant?” I ask myself. It may have started decades ago when ice cream was a luxury.

In my youth, we lived across the street from E. Peña’s Grocery — there were grocery stores on virtually every corner of Las Vegas, back in the days when we used to eat dinosaurs. Continue reading

But you ordered taquitos

For a man who’s younger than I and who doesn’t make a posh living through the manipulation of language, Mayor Alfonso Ortiz appears to have broad knowledge of terms we use in Spanish and English.

He said that “some day” we’d get together, where he could brief me on terms his and my ancestors used in their prime. A while back, I’d written about the diminution of terms in Spanish, used by my parents, especially Mom.

We’ll get back to the mayor in a few graphs. First, let me review some of the points I made in a previous column about how my parents, the late J.D. and Marie, used the diminutive inflectional ending for many things. Dad, during his advanced age, ceaselessly referred to my brother Severino and me as “hijito.”

Now, if this usage were to come in Mayor Ortiz’s presence, I would have said that there was considerable irony, as for years, I’ve not been a small son, nor was my brother, although I suppose I still outweigh Sev by 30 pounds. Continue reading

Is it a couch, divan, sofa?

“Moooonnn River, wider than 1) a mile, 2) the Nile. Well, thanks to my listening to trivia on Martha Johnson’s early show on KFUN, I know the answer: It’s No. 1 above, and my miss was wider than a mile.

In my medieval torpor upon waking a few days ago, I heard a radio conversation with a caller about how easily we misunderstand lyrics to songs, in this case Nile and mile, but I wasn’t awake enough to let it register.

The English language fascinates me on several counts. First, it’s the largest language with about 700,000 words, while other popular languages such as French, German and Spanish, having perhaps half that number. One of the points of fascination is the number of words we have for similar things. There’s a couch, a sofa, a divan, a davenport and a futon. True, there are people who can cite subtle differences in the furniture itself to give it a different name, but when unexpected company arrives, we let them sleep on the couch and we don’t parse any further. Continue reading