Friday, July 13, 2007

What's "transpiring" here?

Recently I heard Lou Dobbs say, "We'll see what transpires." Now I'm an admirer of Lou Dobbs for his keen intelligence and excellent handling of the English language, so I can only think that he's been led astray by the almost universal misuse of "transpire" to mean occur or happen.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "transpire" as "to give off (vapor containing waste products) through the pores of the skin or the stomata of plant tissue." The Dictionary also gives the meanings "to occur or happen," but notes that 62% of its Usage Panel disapproves of using transpire in this sense.

I believe that using "transpire" when a simpler word would do stems from the human desire to sound erudite.

We should all remember that writing or speaking is best when it's clear and concise (unless you're a poet or a great novelist).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Whatever happened to PRETTY HAIR? (A digression)

What happened to all the good advice the glamour magazines gave us on how to make our hair frame our faces -- styles to make a round face look less full, or a long, thin face look fuller? How to make soft curls or waves to flatter us?

Alas, this seems to have been forgotten in an attempt to make all our ladies in the public eye look alike, and with as little style or beauty as possible. Why?

Whenever I see these presenters, or interviewers, or anchorwomen, or even those being interviewed in the studio or the street, I say to the TV set, "Lady, did you look in the mirror before you went out in public looking like that?"

At first it was a shoulder length cut in two tiers -- two hanks hanging down shorter than the other two hanks ("a rag, a bone and a hank of hair" is all I could think of). Then even the two-tier look seemed too much of a fashion statement, and lately it's just been hair hanging there, ragged looking, no sheen, and oh, those dark roots!

Why would all these women decide like lemmings to follow who knows who into a sea of lousy hair-dos? What caused this? I can remember when everyone had the "Monica Lewinski look," but at least that wasn't actually repulsive; and we knew where it came from. This time there is no rhyme nor reason to it.

Ladies, take back your hair! Which of you will be the bellwether to come out with a beautiful hair-do, with waves or curls, and lead those sheep in a glorious revolution?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"If you've got it, flaunt it!" (But never, never flout it!)

If memory serves, the quote above was a well-known advertising slogan that serves as a model for use of the word "flaunt" - which means to brag or act in a way that tends to self-puffery.
  • "He flaunted his new-found wealth by standing drinks for everyone."
  • "He flaunted his new Porsche by driving around the block at 60 miles an hour."
"Flout," on the other hand, means to ignore or fail to obey. Examples:
  • "He flouted his mother's advice to take an umbrella."
  • "He flouted the speed laws by driving 60 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone."
I'm not sure which is more common - "flaunt" for "flout" or "flout" for "flaunt." I think it's the former, but I haven't taken a poll!

Just don't flout the old slogan and you may never get it wrong again!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What do you mean by "beg the question?"

Hello, friends! I’m glad to be back with you. I was away for awhile because of a lot of dental stuff I had to do and then I went on vacation to Cape Cod.

So this blog is titled, “What do you mean by ‘beg the question’?”

There has been a severe outbreak lately of “begging the question.” Apparently it’s a very contagious ailment which may not respond to penicillin or other drugs. It affects many of our TV pundits, and we hope it can be cleared up without too many fatalities.

The thing is, these people don’t know what “to beg the question” means. It’s a device in rhetoric that involves taking the answer for granted within the question. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “to presuppose the conclusion in one’s argument.”

Examples of “begging the question” are:
- “Lying is wrong because we should always tell the truth.”
- “Democracy must be the best form of government because the majority is always right.”

(Source of examples:

When a student accuses a teacher of grading him unfairly because no matter how "excellent" his papers are, she never give him more than a C, this too is “begging the question” since he is basing his argument that she grades unfairly on the unproven premise that his essays are excellent. (Example found at

Only the most erudite among us should attempt to use the phrase in its proper form.

The way to avoid problems is to say “This raises (or gives rise to) the question: Why haven’t we done more about this?” or “Why have these methods not worked better?” or whatever your question may be.

TV pundits please take note!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Two little words - lost!

Whatever became of the two little words, "as if"?

Oh, they're still used in a new way - to express a negative response to a suggestion - "Don't you want to go out with him?" "As if!"

But I'm talking about the old-fashioned words used to express a comparison: "It looks as if it will rain" - not "It looks like it will rain."

The word "like" goes between two noun comparisons:
  • "He looks just like his father."
  • "In that red suit, she looks like a hot air balloon."
"As if" is used between verbal ideas:
  • "It looks as if it will rain."
  • "It looks as if he will take after his father."
I don't know if I can do anything to remedy locutions such as, "He was like, 'What are you doing here?'"or "I was like, 'This can't be happening to me!'"

Some sensible word should be substituted for "like" in these examples, e.g., "He said, 'What are you doing here?'" or "I thought, 'This can't be happening to me!'"

I'm afraid these improper uses of "like" are past remedying, but I thought I'd give it a whirl in case someone out there is listening.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Please don't "gild the lily"!

I often wonder who first started saying "gild the lily;" and why, like sheep, all the world followed the originator?

I'm not going to go through Shakespeare's King John to get the exact words, because I did that once before, but in essence, these two courtiers - the Earl of Somewhere-or-Other and the Earl-of-Somewhere Else - are decrying the idea of the King having another, bigger wedding to his Queen (apparently the first one didn't take or wasn't good enough).

To make a long story short, the first Earl says, "Would you PAINT the lily, GILD refinded gold, or throw a PERFUME on the violet?" These are all examples of foolish excess (like bringing coals to Newcastle!).

As my father said when he told me about this 75 years ago, why would you gild a lily anyway?

When I was a child, we used to make pretty winter bouquets out of milkweed stems and pods, which we gilded and combined with alder stems with the berries on them. But we never gilded a lily!

Thursday, May 3, 2007


Hello Folks! Nice to hear from my "old" friends, and Drew--thanks for your tip about "Grammar Girl."

This is going to be a departure from grammar to pronunciation.

What is the grossest mispronunciation we hear all too often? You're right--NUCULAR! I hear that Laura has tried to get George to say it right, but as she would probably ask, "Have you ever tried to tell 'The Decider' what to do?"

Maybe sterner measures are needed. Some suggestions:
  1. Smack him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper every time he says "nucular"(but not in front of the audience--we don't want our leader to look bad to the rest of the world!)
  2. Take away desserts for a week.
  3. Make him recite "I will not say "nucular" 100 times.
  4. Make him write this 100 times.
  5. On every written speech or on the teleprompter write out NU-CLEE-AR every time the word occurs.
  6. If all else fails, have someone lip-sync the word whenever it appears...

Good luck, Laura--you go, girl!