Saturday, May 12, 2012

Language Quizzes 1-25

1-What Olympic athlete's name is an anagram for ablutions?
2-What is the only US state that doesn't share a letter with its state capital?
3-Name a Micronesian palindromic resident?
4-Name a professional sports team whose placename & nickname are composed solely of letters worth 1 point in Scrabble?
5-Name a city in North America of at least 10 letters where every letter has an odd alphabetical position?
6-What do these words have in common? barometer-comparison-cybernetics-timberline?
7-Name a word with 5 consecutive vowels?
8-Name 2 words that are antonyms & homophones to each other?
9-Name an American city whose last 5 letters are an anagram to its first 5 letters?
10-Name these 2 anagrammed musicians?   ascertains-narcoleptic
11-Name these 2 anagrammed directors? Old West action- On set sir, scream
12-Name these 2 anagrammed actorrs?  costumier -semolina
13-Name these 2 anagrammed US VPs?    grow a penis- I need job
14-Name these 2 anagrammed Canadian PMs?   pure, truer idea-I mourn blarney
15-Name these 2 anagrammed poets?   toilets-best way
16-Name a country and a country's capital that are anagrams?
17-What do these words have in common?  tangerine-raincoat-manger
18-What do these 2 words ahve in common?   foregone-remained
19-Name 2 placenames with 3 consecutive dots?
20-Name 2 European cities that are anagrams to each other?
21-What SW US city and Midwest city are anagrams to each other?
22-What country is named for its geographical position?
23-What do these words have in common?   defeat-menopause-first
24-What do these words have in common?  Dixielander-interregnum-transmigration
25-What do these words have in common?   pram-pants-piano

Friday, May 11, 2012

mother's day

(This article appeared in the May Senior Times)

Reflections on baby talk and mutant English
May 2012
This article is dedicated to my daughter Jennifer, born in Quebec, who gave birth to Maya Ruth Richler-Stoffman on April 5th in Bloomington, Indiana.
The Oxford Companion to the English Language (OCEL) is missing an “s” at the end of its title. The OCEL has headings for more than 400 varieties of our multitudinous language, such as Australian English, Singapore English, and Canadian English.
I’ve never even heard of some of the varieties, such as Babu English, which is described in OCEL as “a mode of address and reference in several Indo-Aryan languages, including Hindi, for officials working for rajahs, landlords, etc.”
My mother tongue, Quebec English, is actually one of these mutations listed in OCEL. In my dealings with the outside world, I’m constantly being reminded, if not chided, about the distinctiveness of my English.
Some years ago, while toiling in the steel industry, I couldn’t reach a customer in Newfoundland and in my recorded message stated that “my local is 222.” I found out a week later why the person never phoned me back. My reference to “local” made him think I represented a union—I should have used the term “extension.”
I would think that many a mother born in Quebec, but bringing up her children elsewhere, is likely to have her mongrel English roots sussed out were she to use the word “suss” as a noun in a prenatal class.
Howard Richler’s daughter Jennifer with 3-year-old Judah and nearly-new Maya Ruth. Photo courtesy of Howard Richler
You see, for many Quebec anglophones a “suss” is their word of choice for a pacifier but this term is only to be found among English-speaking people deriving from Quebec. It comes from the French-Canadian term for a pacifier—suçon or suce—and derives from the French word sucer, “to suck.” Even in France, this term would be largely unknown as the definitive word there would be une tétine.
This mongrelization is not unusual, as the term “pacifier” for many products we associate with babies varies quite a lot in the English-speaking world. The term “pacifier” in the United Kingdom is largely unknown and the definitive term for such is a “dummy” because the device is an artificial teat. In North America and the U.K., many people use such other terms for pacifier as binky or nuk (or nuk-nuk). Binky was actually a brand name for a pacifier introduced by Playtex in 1948 and produced until 1977. Nuk derives from the Nuk baby product company, which was established in Germany in 1964.
Interestingly, the term “binky” grew beyond the sense of pacifier and is often used to refer to a young child’s blanket, stuffed animal or other prized possession.
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, British English and North American English are two languages separated by an ocean, and we see this chasm in many terms we use associated with babies. After all, “popping” a baby in a cot in Britain just means placing it there, whereas stating that you “popped” a baby in a North American crib might get you arrested for harming an infant.
In England, a nanny changes a baby’s nappy, not its diaper. This word was first used in English in the 14th century when it referred to a textile fabric and by the next century it referred to a linen fabric.
It is in the 17th century that the word is first used to refer to a baby’s napkin or cloth. The word nappy is a version of napkin and its first citation in the OED is in 1927.
The term pram to refer to a baby carriage
goes back to 1884 and I was surprised to discover that it is actually a shortening of the word perambulator.
Nowadays this term has succumbed to the more descriptive push chair.
Howard Richler’s book From Gay (Happy) to Gay (Homosexual) and other mysterious semantic shifts will be published by Ronsdale Press in 2013.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Prepositional Ending

Don't end sentences with prepositions? What are you talking about?


Howard Richler

Freshman: “Sir, can you tell me where the dining hall is at?”

Professor: “Don't you know that you shouldn't end a sentence in a


Freshman: “OK, can you tell me where the dining hall is at, asshole?”

From the time we entered high school we were taught not to end sentences

with a preposition; to do so was ungrammatical. Why it was ungrammatical,

however, was never explained.

Mind you, there were some rebels who discounted this prescription. In

Fowler's Modern English Usage, first written in 1925, by Henry and Francis

Fowler stated “It was once a cherished superstition that prepositions must be

kept true to their name and placed before the word.” Fowler adds that this

practice was seen as “inelegant” and “represents what used to be a very

general belief, and is not yet dead.” Almost a century after Fowler wrote

these words, the canard is still not properly dead and buried.

In an attempt to give this “superstition” a proper funeral, I thought it might

be instructive to explain how it came about in the first place. If we must

fault some group or person, the blame falls on English Puritans and Dryden;

John not Ken. Let me explain.

If you remember your English history, in the mid 17th century the country

undergoes a civil war. On one side you have the monarch Charles I and on

the other you have Parliament with many of the parliamentarians being

Puritans. The Puritans prevailed and Charles I is beheaded as a result. The

Puritans viewed many pastimes such as drinking, gambling and theatre as

vices and as a result for over two decades when the Puritans held power no

new plays were published. When Charles II reclaimed the throne some years

later the theatre was restored but naturally there was a dearth of new plays

for almost thirty years.

John Dryden was a late 17th century poet and playwright who took umbrage

that the public preferred the plays of Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare

over his, particularly because these gentlemen had been deceased for over

fifty years.

When his play The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards was staged in 

1672 he ended it with an epilogue criticizing his audience's greater

appreciation of the works of Shakespeare and Jonson over his and his

contempories, and asserted that his own plays were far wittier than theirs.

Dryden, however, was not through with his braggadocio and trash-talk. Two

years later he published this play in book form an added an essay in which

he chastized the Immortal Bard for his “carelessness and ...lethargy of

thought.” One of Shakespeare's and Jonson's faux pas was allowing

sentences to end in prepositions such as in As You Like It when Rosalind

says to Orlando “Who do you speak to?” He was particularly scathing in

this essay to Jonson's play Catiline where a line reads “The... dens of beasts

could not receive the bodies that those souls were frighted from.” Dryden

characterized the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence by Jonson and

his ilk as “a common fault.”

Dryden, however, realized after writing this essay that in some of his

previous works he too had ended sentences with prepositions and went back

and corrected passages where he had committed this postpositional sin.

Dryden's Law represents the first time this dictate had been invoked by any

writer. It was an age where Latin was regarded as the most sublime

language and notwithstanding that Latin exhibited much flexibilty, it was

not possible to put a preposition at the end of a Latin sentence. In English,

though, it is possible and grammatical to boot which explains why writers

such as Shakespeare had done so. Expecting English, a Germanic language

to conform to Latinate rules makes as much sense as expecting an English

bishop to pray to Jupiter.

In any case Dryden's prescription caught on and by the 18th century while

ending a sentence in a preposition would not get you drawn or quartered, it

was nevertheless regarded as very poor form. In Bishop Robert Lowth's

1762 A Short Introduction to English Grammar he avers “Placing a

preposition inside a sentence is more graceful and perspicacious and much

better with the solemn and elevated style.” A century later in Henry Alford's

1864 The Queen's English we read “There is a peculiar use of prepositions

which is allowable in moderation but must not be too often resorted to. It is

the placing of them at an end of a sentence as I have done in the words

'resorted to'.”

So now that we know that Dryden dictate not to end a sentence with a

preposition was basically a publicity stunt to elevate his stature and

diminish the standing of Shakespeare and Jonson, I hope you will agree

with me that it represents pedantic nonsense up with we should not put.

Howard Richler's book From Gay (Happy) to Gay (Homosexual) and other

mysterious semantic shifts will be published by Ronsdale Press in 2013.