Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't Hate Me for What I Eat

It's the time of year again when many Americans find themselves isolated, out of step and even mocked and persecuted. I am one of them. This year I am stepping out of the shadows to plead for tolerance for this beleaguered minority. So here goes: I am the Word Crank and I like fruitcake.

I know. Listen to voices in the media—comedians, chatty newscasters and even advertisers—and you'll come away with the idea that no one likes fruitcake. In fact, no one even tries to eat them, instead making them ammunition in fruitcake tosses and other seasonal activities for fruitcake-haters. Then there's the joke that there really is only one fruitcake that has been passed around for centuries.

Fruitcakes (that's plural!) have been around for a millennium, at least. The ancestor of today's fruitcake was concocted by the Romans, and the fruitcake habit was spread along with the Roman legions throughout Europe. Each nation produced its own variety, from German stollen to Italian panforte to England's dense versions featuring marzipan and royal icing.

How can something so widespread be so generally reviled? There must be many of us, scattered throughout Western civilization, who actually enjoy fruitcake. But there's no denying that contemporary American culture frowns on the homely fruitcake.

Apparently the innocent generosity of the "cakers" is the source of so much resentment from the "anti-cakers." I gave a fruitcake as a gift. Once. That was when I found out that not everyone appreciates this delicacy. How was I to know? I grew up in a family of fruitcake eaters. A gooey slice of Claxton fruitcake was a staple snack during the Christmas seasons of my childhood.

I meant well. All fruitcake givers mean well. So please, America, can we let up on fruitcake? Can we start joking about jellied cranberry sauce, instead? Why are lovers of that stuff not the butt of jokes?

But, no. I mustn't take my cue from the anti-cakers. Surely the holiday table has room for all sorts of dishes that may not be everyone's cup of tea, such as pate or oyster dressing. Today I assert my right to enjoy this traditional Christmas cake. This year I will eat fruitcake boldly, right out in the open. That is, after I put on a hoodie and sunglasses and slip into an out-of-the-way grocery store to buy some.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Learning to unread

I came across a nifty idea in a column I read today in which the writer discussed his conversion to reading by Kindle light. It was interesting to get the perspective from a certified bibliophile—he described his home's decor in terms of books. But here's what caught my attention: in listing what he has stored on his Kindle, he mentioned the complete works of Dickens and Twain, among others, and "even one of Stieg Larsson's books, which I wish I could unread."

Hmm. Are there any books I'd like to unread? I can only think of one at the moment, which was a sequel too far. I fell in love with the British mini-series Flambards when it was broadcast on PBS sometime in the early 1980s. I sought out the book, which turned out to be a trilogy, published in America as a single volume. This, too, was wonderful.

Then one dark day at the library I found another sequel to the story, menacingly titled Flambards Divided. Well, you just have to wonder when an author writes a fourth book of a trilogy. All the signs and portents pointed to dirty work being done at Flambards, and they did not lie. All the ends that were neatly, and satisfyingly, tied up at the end of the third volume were undone, even shredded, by the fourth.

I have done my best to forget that horror of a novel. For a long time it destroyed my enjoyment of the original story, but now that sequel from hell has faded from memory. I think if I could find Flambards again, I could read it again, with no shadow from that literary doppelganger to dim the pleasure. But it took a couple of decades to reach this point.

Unreading is really hard.

Friday, December 10, 2010

You gotta laugh

It's time again for another grump from the Word Crank, but at present I find myself distinctly ungrumpy. So today I'll offer a miscellany of language goofs that have amused me. The television, as usual, is a gold mine of unintentional comedy. Local news shows are the best places to go for nuggets, but I can't bring myself to watch that drivel anymore. But national shows provide amusement now and then.

For some obscure reason, I enjoy watching financial news/talk shows. I don't always understand the economic stuff and, heaven knows, I never take advantage of their stock picks, but it's lively chat on subjects of real import. And, yes, the financial geniuses occasionally lose a tussle with the English language.

Speaking of some I-forget-what action of Congress, one expert said "You gotta put your hands in your head." Well, I guess if I "gotta," but it doesn't sound easy…or pleasant.

Another financial wizard botched another saying when, referring to one of those companies whose stock I failed to purchase, he declared "They're making money hand over foot."

As I have noted previously, there is no telling what nonsense I would spout if someone "miked" me and pointed a camera in my direction. So the financial talking heads are surely more to be pitied than censured. But what can you say of real estate agency that purchases ad space in a publication to announce of a listing, "Price reducted!"? Did no one question that?

And where was Spell Check when my dermatologist ordered a large poster to tout some cosmetic procedure that promised "noticable results"? I'm afraid I did not need my long sit in the waiting room to notick that.

I just read an article that contained this puzzle: "Some carry a gun to make them a man, rather than the other way around." What? Others carry a man to make them a gun? This one may keep me awake tonight.

Then there are words that aren't, but perhaps should be. Not too long ago, we donated a car to charity. I was not sure whether this was a noble gesture so much as taking advantage of the kindness of strangers to haul away a car worth approximately $7.45. Nevertheless I did it. In investigating this particular group, I was heartened by their self-assessment on their Web site: "We are honest and integrous."

Clearly an adjective form of "integrity" was needed, and Car Angels went where grammarians fear to tread. For some reason, this error made me smile. If we were all a little more integrous, there would be no need to put our hands in our heads.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Prophets Without Spell Check?

During the season of Advent, when Old Testament prophets loom large in liturgical readings, it seems appropriate to bring up the subject of what prophets do…and why we cannot spell it right. Today's "bah, humbug" is the confusion between "prophesy" and "prophecy."

Check out this example I culled from post-election reading: "Huffington Post scribbler Frank Schaeffer reveals that Americans voted Republican not only because of unemployment or skepticism of the health care bill, but also because they believe in biblical “End Times” prophesies."

Arghhh! Wrong, dog breath, as Karnak used to say. That should be "prophecies." This mistake is becoming epidemic, and there is no CDC for such outbreaks. It's up to you and me to stamp out this troubling trend. The good news is that this spelling error is easy to correct. All you need to know is "prophesy" is a verb and "prophecy" is a noun. Need something more? How about "prophesy" is pronounced "proff-eh-sigh" and "sigh" starts with an "s." Easy peasy.

Let's get this straightened out now, because I'm afraid if the epidemic continues unabated, the Word Crank may take on the demeanor of one of those Old Testament prophets. That should scare all of us.