Issue 139, page 4

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New Ask Us Theory About
Sez You...
From Susan Carr:

Were you intending to be funny, or did the "leeway" pun just slip out?

Guestmudgeon Daniel Kelber laments

I am not sure why, as I am sure this has been going on for quite some time, but it has recently been bugging me that no one seems to want to use adverbs. I am just floored when I hear people I know to be well educated say something like "why are you walking so slow?". Is it just laziness, or is the -ly of adverbs out of fashion?

That's a pretty common problem, although we do like to give folks more leeway in speech than we do in formal writing.

-ly-way, very funny.

We're good at subconscious puns!

From Brad Daniels:

I was surprised to see that the definition you gave for wlaffe is very similar to the modern term to waffle (which usually conveys a sense of backing off on an earlier assertion). Merriam-Webster defines to waffle as "to talk or write foolishly", which is similar to that meaning, and even more similar to the meaning of wlaffe, but M-W says waffle is a frequentative of woff, not a variant of wlaffe. What's your take on the subject?

Curiously, wlaffe and waffle arose independently of each other with wlaffe being the elder by about 700 years.

From Gordon Brown:

So, how do you pronounce 'em [wl- words]?

The dictionaries are strangely mute on this topic but, as we see it, there are four options:

a)  Do your best to pronounce wl- as written.  Welsh-speakers have no trouble with this phoneme which occurs quite frequently in that language (e.g. wlad "homeland").

b)  Pronounce it vl- as in "Vlad the Impaler".  The existence of  wlesshe as an alternative form of flesh suggests that some vl- words were pronounced this way.

c)  Pronounce it vul-.  Examples such as wlf and wlgar  give us reason to believe that many vl- words were pronounced this way.

d)  Ignore the pesky w altogether.  After all, isn't that what we do with words like write?

From 'beth Hayes:

I thought the font letters would have stopped by now. Since they haven't, I'd like to add another perspective.  Internet Explorer not only allows you to set the size of the font displayed, but the font as well. Microsoft sets all of their programs' default font settings to Arial and most web masters use the "font = Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" setting if they do specify a font. Since your TOWFI web site doesn't specify a font in the code, the user's default is used. 

Actually, we do define the font in our web pages -- it's Comic Sans.  Folks can override that, however, in their browser settings (and they may not even be aware of it!).

If you want to try something new on your browser:

Go to Tools - Internet Options - General tab - Fonts. Then pick something different. If the font is not defined in a page's HTML code, you'll see everything in your font of choice. If only parts of the page are defined, like the Tallahassee Democrat and others who should know better, you'll see a combination/mish-mash of fonts. 

And while you're there, check and see if you've chosen an option that overrides the web page's specified font(s).  In Netscape, go to EDIT, then PREFERENCES, and then FONTS, and check one of the boxes that says "Use document specified fonts..."

From Kristina Austill:

This is absolutely my favorite place on the web. Keep up the good work! It is the highlight of my week.  I was reading Sez You in the current issue, and saw the note from Mr.. Byrd [who wrote an ode to the spell checker, published here last week].  I thought I for would forward this to you; I wrote it in frustration after proofreading the term papers of my fellow college students.

Spooling Miss Steaks:
Itís varied hard two-reed pay purse ridded buy pebble whiff pour grandma oar bye peephole to defendant apron spiel checker. Pleas crept yore grandma and luring Howe too spells.

Thank you, Kristina!

From Rina Kampeas:

[Last] week's curmudgeon may have noticed a genuine trend towards neglecting the -ly ending that standard English generally requires on adverbs, but slow is not a good illustration of the phenomenon.

Here's what I found in the tenth edition of Webster's Collegiate:

2slow adv (15C): SLOWLY
usage Some commentators claim that careful writers avoid the adverb slow, in spite of the fact that it has had over four centuries of usage <have a continent forbearance till the speed of his rage goes slower ---Shak.> In actual practice, slow and slowly are not used in quite the same way. Slow is almost always used with verbs that denote movement or action, and it regularly follows the word it modifies <beans... are best cooked long and slow ---Louise Prothro>. Slowly is used before the verb <a sense of outrage, which slowly changed to shame ---Paul Horgan> and with participial adjectives <a slowly dawning awareness... of the problem ---Amer. Labor>. Slowly is used after verbs where slow might also be used <burn slow or slowly> and after verbs where slow would be unidiomatic <the leadership turned slowly toward bombing as a means of striking back ---David Halberstam>. 

Here are the part-of-speech attributions for the entry slow in the eighth edition of the COD:

slow ... adj., adv., & v.

That is, there's nothing to be deprecated, whether from a curmudgeon point of view (which I myself don't share) or a selectively prescriptivist one (which I do), in the use of slow as an adverb in writing or in speech. Doubtless that's why we used once upon a time to see "GO SLOW" painted in big, elongated white letters on the road near intersections.

Reaching about 26 years back in my mental files to my undergraduate lectures on the history of the language, I come up with this explanation for the exceptional status of slow as an adverb -- an explanation quite possibly distorted and rendered inaccurate by the vagaries of memory:

Slow is an example of what historians of English call "flat adverbs." (Fast is another, but its shifts of meaning require a whole other letter.) Their Old English forebears were adverbs formed from adjectives not by adding the ending -lice, for which the Present-day English reflex is -ly, but by adding the ending -e.  This ending disappears in Early Modern English -- hence the citation from our favorite authority Shak. in the usage note from Webster's Collegiate.

Thank you for that dissertation regarding slow vs. slowly.

From Danielle DeRome:

Your publication receives quite an array of reactions in our household: hearty chortles, pensive ahhhs, and deep, primal groans. The latter are usually caused by the curmudgeons and anti-curmudgeons. I'd issue an old tomato, but some part of me actually enjoys the odd mixture of pain and relief that each new issue brings. Thanks for the interesting articles.

We are pleased to elicit any response at all!  Thanks for writing.

From Judy Kucera:

What a great list of Malapropisms you have there [in last week's issue]! Here's a few more: 

As a primary school teacher, I've learned that: 

--boy scouts promise to respect the "duly constipated authorities"; 
-- when singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee", we sing to the "Land where my fathers died, and of the children's pride"; 
--In "God Bless America", we sing, "Sandy Spider and Guider" through the night... 
--the word, "don't" is spelled, "d-o-n-suppository-t", and 
--the Instructional Assistant never collates papers; she always "correlates" them. 

Then there's my Uncle Frank, whose favorite saying was, "Never look a gifted horse in the mouth". 

Thanks for this site. It's a great pick-me-up after a long day of confused communications. 

And thanks for your malapropisms and mondegreens.  Mondegreens, you ask?  That's the widely accepted term for "misheard song lyrics".  There are several hilarious web sites devoted to mondegreens.  Here's a good one: .  The etymology of the word mondegreen can be found at that site, too.

From Moayad:

Aljamra Alkhbitha is the Arabic word for "anthrax". It literally means "the malignant burning piece of coal". It may refer to the kind of pain that accompanies the skin lesion or its looks. This is the origin of the Arabic word meaning "anthrax";  the origin of the English word anthrax is definitely not Arab.

Fascinating!  Thank you, Moayad.


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Last Updated 05/18/02 11:02 AM