Sic ’em.

I don’t know why you read the newspaper. I read it to fan the always-flickering coals of irritation at the continuing degradation of the language of Shakespeare and Lindsay Lohan.

From a weekend review of “Skinwalkers”:

The werewolves ride into town on motorcycles, sporting dark sunglasses, shaggy but mostly human except for pearly white, canine teeth.

There shouldn’t be a comma between “pearly white” and “canine.” I guess if I looked through my Strunk & White I could find the precise reason, but I play by ear and I say no. That started me thinking about how you use a comma when you have multiple adjectives in front of a noun. I would write, “MaryMarv* lived in a big blue house,” but also “MaryMarv* is an arrogant, elitist asshole.” I’m sure both are correct, but I don’t know precisely why. Some nice English-teaching nun in the readership, tell me. (Here’s my case: There’s no natural pause between big and blue if you read it aloud, and there is between arrogant and elitist. As I said, I play by ear.)

The next case was more irritating. The story was about a teacher at a local school who’s had some public problems with her temper of late:

Those two incidents earned her a one-day suspension and rebuke this year from D. Allen Diver, then the school’s principal.

“Unfortunately, these patterns of berating individuals have happened far too often during my six years at South,” Diver wrote July 11. “I am continually forced to diffuse situations that you have created because you sometimes appear to speak without thinking or have sent e-mails that are inflammatory.”

Educators are sometimes the most enthusiastic misusers of the language, but this one drives me crazy. It’s “defuse,” not “diffuse,” D. Allen Diver, please. I see this all the time. You defuse a touchy situation the way you defuse a bomb. You diffuse a bad smell by fanning a magazine in the bathroom before you leave. My Oxford American says:

USAGE: The verbs diffuse and defuse sound similar but have different meanings. Diffuse means, broadly, ‘disperse’; defuse means ‘remove the fuse from (a bomb), reduce the danger or tension in.’ Thus: Cooper successfully diffused the situation is incorrect, and Cooper successfully defused the situation is correct.

Of course, the reporter was quoting from a letter in a personnel file, but still. Either correct it or ‘sic’ it. (For continued friendly access to D. Allen Diver, I strongly recommend the former solution.)

Refreshed by curling my lip in scorn at the peons still employed in newspapering, I can then go about my day with a song in my heart.

There wasn’t much written about the gay debate Thursday. I know it was called something with “human rights” in the title, but I will think of it as the gay debate, since it aired on Logo, the gay cable channel, and featured gay questioners, and had the gayest audience ever, including the inevitable elderly lesbian couple, one with gray mullet. I had it on in the background while I worked, and have a few thoughts, none especially deep, but I thought it was sort of sweet and earnest — everyone had that “I can’t believe this is happening…to ME!” thing going on. You don’t see a lot of amateur television anymore, especially when presidential candidates are concerned (all Democrats, and I missed the part where they explained why). And the Logo production was decidedly amateur. The set was sort of homemade looking and some of the questioners looked just gobsmacked to be there, and yes I’m talking about you, Melissa Etheridge, and the post-game interviews were conducted by a young man who looked like he got out of high school five minutes ago. But that gave the whole production charm. Really.

Hillary sort of wiped the floor with everyone else, which she’s been doing consistently this season, although Obama and Edwards held their own. But perhaps only on Logo would you hear someone, when asked for a reaction afterward, say, “She looks really good in coral.” By the time the wrap-up turned to somebody I’d never heard of for the “lighter side” reaction, it was probably inevitable that Dennis Kucinich would be called “adorable. …like someone born in a flower.”

As a native Buckeye, I’ve thought of Kucinich a lot, but never like that.

Speaking of Ohioans, caught “The People vs. Larry Flynt” Friday night on cable. It holds up after a decade, and may have even improved with age. I was stung anew at the injustice Milos Forman perpetrates in the name of narrative coherence — he relocates Flynt from Columbus to Cincinnati. So, so wrong. Ohioans know what I’m talking about. Columbus never embraced Flynt, but it tolerated him better than the Queen City, where he was vigorously prosecuted by Simon Leis, one of those crusading, stick-up-the-butt prigs Hamilton County specializes in. When the movie came out, I wrote an essay about living in central Ohio when Larry was in high cotton, and I’d like to rewrite it now, and throw in all the stuff I had to leave out because of the family-newspaper thing. But it needs a news peg. I’ll save that for when he dies, or brings down another speaker of the house.

Apologies for lameness today. I had a more substantive, linky post in progress, and then discovered Alan had recommended the subject to one of the paper’s columnists, so I’ll step aside and let the people who provide our health insurance go first.

Do I have bloggage? Oh, a little:

I’ve been reading all I can about the current Wall Street meltdown, understanding maybe 80 percent of it. My econ training is apparently all obsolete now, although maybe not entirely. (One conclusion I’ve reached: If the Fed bails these dildoes out again, I’m becoming an anarchist.) If you’re finding it baffling — investment vehicles based on risky mortgages? ARMs as perpetual fee-generators? — you’re in good company. Slate provides a 101-level explainer, in plain English.

The last rat jumps from the sinking ship of the Bush administration. Tim Goeglein’s prolificacy of late, explained? Maybe he’s auditioning to be the News-Sentinel’s culture writer. Or maybe he was just killing time in his office while the wallpaper peeled off.


* name changed to spare the feelings of regular commenters named Mary. I don’t think we have a Marv yet, but I expect one to show up any minute.

Posted at 7:33 am in Current events, Media, Movies |

34 responses to “Sic ’em.”

  1. MichaelG said on August 13, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Does Rove’s resigining mean something is going to happen in Sept/Oct and he doesn’t want to be in town when it does? Is it related to Chaney’s renewed push to attack Iran?

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  2. brian stouder said on August 13, 2007 at 8:32 am

    I didn’t catch the gay debate last week, but I DID see an evening replay of Meet the Press on msnbc last night, wherein former congressman Harold Ford and Markos Moulitsas discussed current events.

    Ford repeatedly reached out and remained determinedly polite toward the key-boardist blogger, while Kos couldn’t resist a couple of particularly egregious cheap shots – for example blaming the Minnesota bridge collapse and the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe on the DLC! Yep – that will score Kos some left-wing fever swamp blogger-cred, but it also exposes him for the essentially small-minded factional hack that he is.

    Additionally, the moderator ran an excerpt from one of Kos’s angry screeds against Senator Clinton, which stated that she personified all that was wrong with the the Democratic party, and that she couldn’t possibly win the nomination. When he was questioned about that prediction, given Senator Clinton’s large (and growing) lead in the polls today, he clumsily back-tracked and waffled and expressed admiration for her (while still calling her a “cold” television personage who had bad media advisors), and yet still deprecated President Clinton’s two plurality-wins in the ’90’s. By the way, Kos’s big diss of Senator Clinton was written a long, long time ago (in internet terms, anyway) – about 11 weeks ago!!

    And leaving that aside, have you been watching that odd mine owner from Utah, who keeps conducting his own spin-control press conferences at the site of the collapse? Leaving aside the genuine horror of what has apparently happened there, everytime I see that guy, with his sloped back forehead and especially when he leaves his hard-hat with headlight on, I am reminded of the groundhog on the original Winnie the Pooh cartoon (“Ssssay, what’ssss goin’ on here? Ooopsss, breaktime! gotta have ssssupper! Aaaaaahhhhhh [thud] [as he falls to the bottom of his tunnel)

    And one last non-sequitur – didja see the article in the Saturday J-G about the poo-flinging monkey, the foul-tempered (and bepooped) construction worker, and the trash-talking bird?

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  3. Hieronymus said on August 13, 2007 at 9:42 am

    >all Democrats, and I missed the part where they explained why

    As I understand it, the Republicans were all invited and all declined to appear. And I’m am simply stunned to hear that…

    And why do otherwise seemingly rational people like Obama, Clinton and Edwards refuse to just say they approve of gay marriage? It just seems inane to try and sugarcoat the issue by calling it something else and yet trying to say it is “just like” marriage, with all the rights and responsibilities.

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  4. MichaelG said on August 13, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Oops, just realized I spelled a word wrong. Resig…

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  5. LA mary said on August 13, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Hey, pick a name none of us have. Here I thought I had concealed my assholeness pretty well.

    Since the cat is out of the bag, I will be an asshole and tell you I have a neighbor who has a job taking “fetish photographs” for Larry Flynt.

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  6. Danny said on August 13, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Man, Flynt is so twisted that by now he is probably back to normal and a “fetish photograph” for him is of someone fully clothed in an outdoorsy environment.

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  7. Jolene said on August 13, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Psssst. It’s “profligacy”, not “proflicacy”. I’d explain the comma rule, but I can’t bear the idea that someone might think I’m an English-teaching nun.

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  8. Heather said on August 13, 2007 at 10:23 am

    On the comma front: I think the rule is that if the sentence still makes sense when you swap the adjectives around (like “arrogant, elitist asshole” vs “elitist, arrogant asshole”) you should use a comma. But if it wouldn’t make sense (“big blue house” vs “blue big house”) then you skip the comma.

    I’m a blast at cocktail parties. Really.

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  9. Danny said on August 13, 2007 at 10:26 am

    I’m a blast at cocktail parties. Really.

    That made me smile.

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  10. brian stouder said on August 13, 2007 at 10:47 am

    The J-G article on the foul-mouthed bird and the poo-flinging monkey and the construction worker went national

    an excerpt

    The bird didn’t miss anything when a volunteer construction worker started cussing recently after a chimp threw feces at him, said Jessica Price, senior zookeeper at the sanctuary about 30 miles north of Fort Wayne. “She started laughing and carrying on,” Price said.

    Peaches then reverted to a few of her own favorites.

    “Go away, shut up, shut your blankety-blank mouth,” Price said. “She says a lot of very bad words.”

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  11. Bill said on August 13, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Psst. It’s Cheney. Not Chaney. See:

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  12. MichaelG said on August 13, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Whoops! But I guess I have company, Bill. My only excuse is that it was early here and the coffee was still brewing. That was two words out of 33 or 6%. I violated my own rules about proofing and spell checking and see what happened.

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  13. Lance Mannion said on August 13, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Heather’s rule of thumb is a good one.

    The actual reason the comma isn’t needed in pearly white canine teeth is that although it looks like a string of four words, three adjectives and a noun, it’s really just two words, one adjective and one noun. Pearly and canine are not modifying the word teeth, they are part of the names of two things, a color and a kind of tooth. Pearly white is a color, canine teeth are different from bicuspids and molars but are like them particular teeth in your mouth, just as a Nancy Nall is a particular kind of Nall.

    Hey, I’m not a nun, but I was taught by them.

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  14. Dorothy said on August 13, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    I was too, Lance, but your memory is a lot better than mine! Then again – your line of business sort of requires that I guess.

    I am always ready to give credit to my Catholic education (grades 1-8 for me) for being able to spell and write reasonably well.

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  15. LA mary said on August 13, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Don’t let the door hit you in the ass, Karl.

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  16. alex said on August 13, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Woody Harrelson as Larry Flynt… I recall that the fat suit lent some credibility but otherwise it was like watching Woody Harrelson act. And the movie’s beatification of Flynt as some kind of First Amendment hero didn’t ring true to me either.

    But Cincinnati. Yes, I recall when the criminal charges were brought against Robert Mapplethorpe for the same relatively benign exhibit I’d seen in Chicago just prior to its appearance in Cincy. And then the Cincinnatians turned their guns on the proprietors of a publication I was working for at the time.

    In a Cincinnati Border’s, a man came in with a toddler. He had the toddler pick up a copy of Libido: The Journal of Sex and Sensibility (in which Mapplethorpe photography was featured) and together they went to the register. The toddler handed the magazine to the cashier and dad paid for it. Then the dad tried to sue Border’s for selling pornography to a child. It was thrown out of court.

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  17. alex said on August 13, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Actually I think Mapplethorpe was dead at that point. The criminal charges were being brought against the Cincinnati Museum of Art.

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  18. Julie Robinson said on August 13, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Well, I have an uncle named Marv, but he’ll never read this, and anyway, he’s a good guy.

    Here’s a usage I see increasingly; “kids” instead of “children”. When did that change in the style manual?

    Has anyone read or viewed The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope? There’s a wonderful BBC version starring David Suchet and a host of great British actors. It’s one of those morality plays that is just as relevant in 2007 as it was in 1875.

    Brief synopsis: Seemingly wealthy man moves from Europe to London where he rents the costliest house, throws the costliest parties, and sets up a speculative business. All of it on credit. While it lasts, it’s fantastic, but of course, it’s a house of cards.

    That’s what our economy has been for the last few years, a house of cards. But they always fall, and they take many innocents with them.

    How many people took out adjustable rate mortgages without having them fully explained? It’s easy to say they should have known, but I don’t believe people should be punished by losing their homes just because they couldn’t comprehend mortgage speak. They were led to slaughter by greedy lenders.

    This is just one more issue on which thinking people should have righteous anger at our current system. George W. and his buddies will have much to answer for on the judgment day. Alas it should be sooner.

    Whew! Steam no longer coming from my ears.

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  19. nancy said on August 13, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    And the movie’s beatification of Flynt as some kind of First Amendment hero didn’t ring true to me either.

    Well, the case he was involved in was a strange one, but you can only appreciate it if you consider what would have happened if Jerry Falwell had prevailed. He sued for “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” and as a public figure, to boot. If Falwell had won — and he came a long way from winning; the Supremes’ vote was unanimous — newspapers wouldn’t be able to run editorial cartoons featuring mean caricatures of public figures. The blogosphere would be a legal minefield. Garry Trudeau and most columnists would be out of business. (On the other hand, I could have sued Rich Reynolds and won in a walk. Hmm.) Falwell contended he could recover damages because his feelings were hurt. That’s a pretty big precedent to set, and thankfully, it was overturned.

    The screenwriter wisely made this the climax of the biopic, but there were other legal moments in Flynt’s life that deserve to be immortalized. I’m thinking of the libel case between him and Bob Guccione, which played out in a Columbus courtroom virtually unnoticed by the national media. And it was a scream. Guccione cried on the stand, and won something like $75 million, later reduced on appeal to about $1.98. Construction of the Penthouse casino in Atlantic City stalled at the ironwork phase, while Guccione tried to collect his $75 million. (It was never completed, at least not under the Penthouse brand.)

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  20. brian stouder said on August 13, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    How many people took out adjustable rate mortgages without having them fully explained? It’s easy to say they should have known, but I don’t believe people should be punished by losing their homes just because they couldn’t comprehend mortgage speak. They were led to slaughter by greedy lenders.

    This is just one more issue on which thinking people should have righteous anger at our current system. George W. and his buddies will have much to answer for on the judgment day.

    I agree with all of this, as far as it goes (in fact, I’d add President Bush’s bank-friendly, anti-little guy tightening (noose-like) of the bankruptcy laws to the indictments against his eternal soul); as surely you might also include President Clinton and his 90’s economic house of cards based on the dot-com bubble and his Enron/Global Crossing buddies (et al); and his tightening of the welfare laws surely hurt a lot of people that would qualify as ‘the least of these’.

    When it comes down to it, it seems like fancy-pants money people are always in conflict with staid silver-greys and their tried and true axioms. The fancy pants crowd invents some “new” dodge (which ultimately amounts to some scheme where you somehow earn wealth quicker and more easily than everyone else), and then the “new” dodge crashes for all the old reasons, and little people get hurt, and the fancy pants crowd takes abreak for a few years and then pull another rabbit out of the hat.

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  21. Julie Robinson said on August 14, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Amen, brother. In Sunday’s paper, a story noted that people who have declared bankruptcy are still being inundated with credit card offers. Many are from the same lenders they had credit cards from before the bankruptcy! Pure greed.

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  22. Jolene said on August 14, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Sheesh! My eye just landed on the word I thought Nancy had misspelled, and I saw that I’d misread it. So much for my future as a copyeditor.

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  23. Danny said on August 14, 2007 at 10:32 am


    The following pragraphed from and article in the Daily Mail (UK) about a temper tantrum thrown by Richard Branson in which he threw water on comic Stephen Colbert during an interview.

    “But despite being drenched, the host, who Branson had named a plane after, refused to be phased.”

    Fazed is what it should be. I thought these guys spoke the King’s English. I am so glad we threw that damn tea in the harbour harbor now!

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  24. Kirk said on August 14, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Danny, I wondered whether that might be a case of a British spelling, so I looked in the dictionary and found this entry:

    phase: disputed sp. of FAZE

    “Disputed spelling”? Why the hell would you put that in a dictionary? It’s Webster’s New World, which is the one we use at work. It’s way too laissez-faire.

    No mention of a British spelling, by the way, so that copy editor’s fingers should be broken.

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  25. Danny said on August 14, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Nancy, we need a verdict. Can you consult your OED?

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  26. Marcia said on August 14, 2007 at 11:04 am

    I would like to nominate this group as the best blog commenters ever. You guys are cracking me up.

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  27. harry near indy said on August 14, 2007 at 11:09 am

    nancy, regarding the cincinnati prudes, you forgot to mention charles keating, the savings and loan kingpin who’s now in jail in connection with the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s.

    iirc, he used to scream about porn being a communist plot to subvert america.

    also iirc, a lot of soviet apparatchiks used to denounce porn as a capitalist plot against the socialist motherland.

    man, there is something about sex that really gets the skivvies of authoritarians in a wad. if someone could explain why, i’d appreciate it.

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  28. MarkH said on August 14, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Wrong, harry. Keating got off, due not in small part, to Lance Ito screwing up another trial:

    Actually, he did serve prison time, but only four years, got out on appeal, then the convictions were thrown out. He plea-bargained other charges for the four years already served.

    But, look at the best part of the story: how he hired Alan Greenspan, of all people, to enable his Lincoln Savings fiasco.

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  29. nancy said on August 14, 2007 at 11:36 am

    I have no OED, but Oxford American is plainly on the side of goodness and righteousness:


    faze, phase Faze = disconcert; daunt. Phase (verb) = carry out (a plan, program, etc.) in stages. Phase for faze is an increasingly common blunder—e.g.: “Others said they had weathered so many rumors that nothing phased [read fazed ] them anymore.” ( Boston Globe; June 6, 1995.) The opposite error ( faze for phase) also occurs, but more rarely—e.g.: “All that while shooting guard Art Mlotkowski, shadowed all over the court by Northport senior Rob Sanicola, was fazed [read phased ] out of the offense.” ( Newsday [New York]; Feb. 26, 1995.) — BG

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  30. LA mary said on August 14, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    This morning I heard John McCain say “Harry Truman used racial EPITAPHS…”
    He’s been reading whatisface.

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  31. brian stouder said on August 14, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    What would a racial epitaph be?

    Here lies Karl Rove
    his slick white ass would steal
    everything but a redhot stove

    (or some such)

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  32. Marcia said on August 14, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Bravo, Brian.

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  33. crack said on August 16, 2007 at 10:16 am

    My Grandfather was named Marv. He was a great guy.

    Feel free to use Crack as you nom de dérision. It’s not really mine and I doubt its anyone else’s.

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  34. joodyb said on August 20, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Brian, that was worth reading comments to the end (like it’s ever NOT).
    I say we forgo all punctuation except dots and go back to writing everything telegraph style. stop.

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