Monthly Archives: March 2018

“But I wuz robbed”

I miss my dad. He died at age 94 — way back last century. He was long-lived and
clung on, despite some 25 hospitalizations of at least a week’s duration.

But before you surmise this column is going to be one of those “I Remember
Mama” themes, let me assure you it is not. Throughout most of life (his),
I was far from his favorite son (there were five of us children), and Dad’s
younger brother moved in with us on the death of their mother.

But I’m introducing too many characters into this play, so I’ll say only that
Tio Juan could take any two digit number and multiply it by another
double-digit number and have the correct number even before my sister Bingy or
I could work out the answer with paper and pencil.

A ran into a man today who said he often read my columns and had lived for
years on my block on Railroad Avenue, the area I call “Tough Street.”
Long ago I christened my street because my friends and I may have fought a lot
among ourselves, but if gangs from other parts of town came knocking, my
friends and I became instant cohorts. Continue reading

Don’t end sentence with proposition

As my wife, Bonnie, and I read Sunday’s Optic, she said, “Did you notice the grammatical error in one of the articles?” As a comma chaser for much of my life, I became curious.

She said that some people misuse words because they sound much like other words. She said she notices when people use “aggravated” when they mean “irritated.”

We noted how people often use “infer” when they mean “imply.” And my favorite is reading about people who say their car collided with a parking meter. That must have been a fast-moving meter.

We perhaps don’t read enough to recognize the errors in expressions like “Don’t end a sentence with a proposition.” Aside from the implicit humor in that command, we need to spell preposition correctly.

In academe we’re constantly exposed to grammatical errors. Even language professors use them. A writer for the Newark Advocate points out that “The word grammatical means . . . “according to rule or to the laws of grammar.” He adds that the term “grammatical error” is a contradiction in itself. How can it be grammatical and still contain an error? Continue reading

We sort of like help people

“Gee, Dad, I wonder if maybe I could kind of like borrow the car tonight. Some of the guys are planning an all-night study session for finals.”

That sounds and reads like a timid request for access to the wheels. It’s kind of like the request some pimple-faced teen might make.

But it was ME making the request (or, as my English teacher would say, “It was I . . .”) Yes, unlike today’s every-kid-has-a-car society, in those days, the ‘50s, my family was lucky even to have a car, a used one that gave us about 36 yards per gallon.

In my youth, car-borrowing was far from a many-splendored thing. I needed to compete with an older brother who, it seemed, got more privileges because he had a license and owned the jumper cables. Rarely, he’d let me use his driver’s license. But please don’t spread a word of this to anyone.

As a retired teacher of speech and English, I became fascinated by the use and abuse of language, more specifically how people tailor their verbiage, and like me, often come dangerously close to talking Dad out of letting me use the car.

Notice how many requests for cars, money — anything — come couched in flabby words like “like,” “kind of,” “or something” and many others. Notice my first sentence contains the phrase, “I wonder if I could kind of like borrow” bleeds with flabby words that give all Dads of the world more opportunities to cop out, to say, “Well, son, you’ve talked me and yourself out of turning over the keys to you.” Continue reading