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Thursday, July 31, 2008
Ask Mister Language Person

DAVE BARRY STOPPED WRITING his weekly columns several years ago (in 2004 to be exact). Other nationally noted columnists, such as Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby") and Ann Landers ("Ann Landers"), have had the simple decency to die before they quit on their loyal readers. They, apparently, even had the forethought to bequeath their names and trademarks, if not their talent, to progenitors who continue to "ghostwrite" (and I use that termed advisedly) their columns. I, personally, see no reason why I should have to wait for the self-centered Mr. Barry to die, or for him to admit I am his progeny, before replacing him. Thus, I humbly offer myself, his red-headed stepchild, as his surrogate. Find my first submission below.


Ask Mister Language Person

NOT BY DAVE BARRY.  (This is not the classic Dave Barry column which was originally published Nov. 4, 2001.)

Welcome to another episode of "Ask Mister Language Person," the column written by the well-versed language expert listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most punctilious person.

punc·til·i·ous [puhngk-TIL-ee-uhs] adjective [Origin: 1625-35] Probably from the Italian puntiglioso, from puntiglio meaning "fine point," from Latin punctum meaning "prick."

Extremely attentive to punctilios; strict or exact in the observance of the formalities or amenities of conduct or actions.

-Related forms: punc·til·i·ous·ly, adverb; punc·til·i·ous·ness, noun.

-Synonyms: precise, demanding; careful, conscientious. See also scrupulous.

-Antonyms: careless.


Now, some questions from some curious correspondents.

Q: Why does it seem that all conservative opinion columnists write pedantical columns about grammatic faux pas and other purportedly egregian errors of the English language?

A: It’s hard to say but may be related to the fact that they also tend as a group to be enamored with S. Isitt's grammatical classic "Crazic, Menty and Idiotal: An Inquiry into the Use of the Suffixes -al, -ic-, -ly, and -y in Modern English," which is a jaunty romp through this limited yet important range of adjectival suffixes.

Q: Do you have any language tips for the American traveling abroad?

A: Americans (being from the greatest nation that ever has or ever will exist) have a tendency when traveling about the globe to assume that the rest of the world will accommodate them linguistically, thus allowing the Americans to communicate effortlessly in their own tongue. This, unfortunately, is not true. Sadly, in many parts of the world foreigners speak English with a foreign accent, using phrasing and idioms not in common use among native American speakers.

Even our good friends from north of the border (that would be the Canadians for those of you who do not have a world map handy at the moment) have a tendency to lapse into Canadian accentuation and colloquialization at moments when speaking with foreigners (which we Americans are, strangely enough, when traveling in foreign nations such as Canada). This can be confusing.

For example, if a Canadian calls you a "keener," do not be flattered. Keener refers to an eager person who is "keen" to demonstrate knowledge in nerdy environments, such as work, school or church. Like "hoser," it is not a flattering term.

Also, if a Canadian asks you for a loonie, do not give them a bird. Although the loon is a water bird whose haunting call has long symbolized the peace and quiet of Canadian cottage country, a Canadian using this term would likely be referring to the Royal Canadian Mint's one-dollar coin, thusly called because of the loon depicted on the coin’s face, or, more generally, to the Canadian dollar.

Further, let us consider the case of a Canadian asking, "How's she bootin 'er?" Just say, "Fine." (The question is the Canadian equivalent of "How y'all doin'?" in the Southern American idiom.)

Finally, if a Canadian calls you a Gorby while you are visiting Montreal, do not be alarmed. This is not, I repeat, not a derogatory term for a communist. Gorby is a derogatory term for a tourist, which at that point, you would be.

Q: What are the most interesting anagrams of DAVE BARRY?

A: The most interesting, in a linguistic context, are Adverb Ray, A Very Bard, and A Yard Verb (which, I might add, would make a very good band name).

Q: Why do English teachers get so kerfuffled about dangling participles?

A: Without bringing in too much detail from the unfortunate Robert Wooding incident in seventh-grade gym class at Robert E. Lee Junior High School in Danville, Virginia in the fall of 1962, let's just say that phys-ed teachers aren't that keen on them either.


Gary D. Gaddy, who isn't himself punctilious but does have a brother who once wrote a college term paper on the use of the verb "to be" in Hamlet, is not, I repeat, is not Dave Barry.

A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday July 31, 2008.

Coyright  2008  Gary D. Gaddy 

Authored by Gary G. Gaddy at 8:59 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 10:59 AM EDT
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