Sunday, October 14, 2012

What'n the World is Go'n On?

I'm wondering if it's too late to get a proposition on the November 6 ballot. Or maybe some kind of emergency legislation. I don't mean anything as drastic as Lincoln's suspending habeas corpus. But something must be done about that linguistic changeling—'n.

I can be as folksy as the next…not very folksy person, but this 'n thing has gotten out of of control. It's roaming about pretty freely, seeking whom it may devour. Here in the Word Crank home country, it seems to be devouring festivals.

Recent civic soirees include one called, ridiculously, "Break’n Bread" or, possibly, Break ’n Bread." It's hard to tell from the advertising if there is a space between "Break" and "'n." Either way, what does it mean? Yes, there seems to be food involved. Break’n Bread is sponsored by a group of restaurateurs and locavores, and is oh-so-hip. And yes, I know they mean "breaking bread," but for heaven's sake, why don't they just say so? The name actually says "Break and Bread." Why would a hoity-toity group of foodies butcher the name for its fundraiser?

And it gets worse. I refer to the Kick'n Chick'n Wing Fest. I simply can't wrap my brain around the illiteracy of that one. If deploying an 'n or two makes an event sound ever so much more fun and happening (happen'n? happ'n'n?), I wonder what the organizers of other events were thinking.

A suburb's "Arts and Music on the Green" sounds downright staid. It so easily could have been "Arts’n Music’n the Green." And how about the local celebration of all things Hispanic? It's called, simply, Fiesta. Perhaps the organizers went through ESL classes, and, so, actually learned grammar. ("Her English is too good, he said, Which clearly indicates that she is foreign." Lyric from "You Did It," My Fair Lady)

Sad. It could have been "Lat'n Fest."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Give Me a "D"

With all the hubbub in the world, along with the obsessive reporting on the horse race for the White House, you may have missed one news item of real importance—blogger Ted McCagg has named the Best Word Ever.

And the winner is…diphthong.

I'm a bit conflicted. Don't get me wrong. Diphthong is a great word. But is it the Best Word Ever?

McCagg arrived at diphthong through a series of bracket face-offs that first determined the best "A" word, "B" word, and so on. Then the letter winners went up against each other in a brutal lexicographic battle.

In the Final Four match-up—gherkin vs. kerfuffle and diphthong vs. hornswoggle—I am a kerfuffle partisan. If kerfuffle had gone up against diphthong mano a mano, I have to believe the k-word would win. Try it yourself. Say "kerfuffle" and try not to smile. And this delightful word lost to a pickle? We was robbed!

Lots of fun words fell in earlier rounds.  Vamoose, skedaddle and canoodle did well, but couldn't close the deal. Why didn't the "R" bracket winner, rapscallion, do better? What a great word. On the other hand, the "Q" winner—quagmire—never had a chance. It's just too familiar. One of my favorites, Quinquagesima, wasn't even in the running, a sad victim of the "modernizing" of the language of the Book of Common Prayer.

The "P" champion was phlegm. Ugh. Inexplicably, it not only left my choice—poppycock—in the dust, but actually made it to the Final 32 (West Bracket). And speaking of ick, one of everyone's favorites, and one I have to check the spelling of every time, onomatopoeia, lost to sphincter. Is it possible this McCagg dude is a really bright middle-schooler? Is there any other explanation?

So I guess it could have been worse. If sphincter had been the big winner, McCagg and I would have been involved in a kerfuffle.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fifty Shades of I-Don't-Care

With all the publishing world agog at the phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey, there's been a lot of chatter about what makes a book a bestseller. Conclusion: nobody has the foggiest idea. On the Fifty Shades marvel-of-the-moment, I have mixed feelings. I love the idea of an unknown writer doing an end-run around the haughty gatekeepers in their glass-and-steel fortresses in Manhattan and rocketing to fame and fortune. Who didn't root for Cinderella?

Unfortunately, in this case, the gatekeepers were right about quality, if not marketability. Fifty Shades is bilge water. At least, that's what I understand. I haven't read it. I will not read it. I may be the only woman in America who never cracks its spine, but that just brings to mind the classic parental phrase "If everybody jumped off a bridge…"

No. Life is too short and my to-read lists (yes, I have at least three) are too long. And there are far better novels than Fifty Shades that I refuse to read. I was reminded of that recently when one of those "How Many of These Books Have You Read" lists made the rounds on Facebook. Of 100, I counted about 30 that I had made my own. That's a pretty poor showing, but my reaction was not that I needed to upgrade my reading, but "Who makes these lists?"

I don't know who compiled the Facebook list, but checking out other such exercises in literary snobbery, I discovered that my 30 was an excellent grade in comparison. Modern Library, an imprint of Random House, put out a list of 100 novels educated folk should have read. My score: 0-2 (the variation coming from my inability to remember if I actually read Animal Farm and The Maltese Falcon. I think so, but I couldn't swear it under oath).

Call me Illiterate.

I did better on the list Time magazine put out back in 2005 of what its advisors considered the 100 best novels that had been published during its existence, i.e., 1923 to 2005. My score: about 9 (Animal Farm is on this list, too).

My defensive ego suggested that maybe I'd do better on Time's list of top 100 nonfiction books. This was updated from 2005 and expanded to 101 books, despite still being named "Top 100," I suspect to include the President's  Dreams From My Father—just one more I haven't read.

The verdict went for the defense, but just barely. My score: 11, unless I can count The Looming Tower, which I had to return to the library after only finishing the first section. (I try to keep my library fines well below the firstborn-child level of indebtedness.)

All in all, nothing to write home (or a blog post?) about. But for the blow to my self-concept, I have no regrets. Most of those books I wouldn't read even if required to by an act of Congress. So, there you have it, E.L. James. I'll get around to your masterpiece just as soon as I've finished Ulysses, Lolita, Coming of Age in Samoa, Syntactic Structures, et al.

That would be shortly after Satan's Zamboni finishes smoothing out the ice rink at the Hades Sportsplex.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shakespeare was wrong

      What's in a name? that which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet…

That's what you think, Will. Those crazy Elizabethans knew nothing of marketing. The name's the thing, not the play. Poor Shakespeare had to muddle through with no marketing department, no focus groups. Nobody to tell him that "Hamlet" was a better name for a fast-food breakfast item than a protagonist—and, good fellow, that ending is such a downer.

We are more fortunate. If you want to know who we are as a people, look at ads. Advertising and marketing offer the truest mirror we could gaze in. It tells us what are the fairest dreams of our imagining.

So it is interesting to see trends in ads. One that currently puzzles me is teeth-whitening procedures. There are any number of methods to get the pearly-whites whiter (and, incidentally, less pearly, since pearls are not bright white). It is not surprising that we want whiter teeth (although sometimes the unnatural whiteness can be startling).

What is fascinating is that the advertising for these methods almost never mentions teeth. Instead, they brightly talk about whitening your smile. Once I began to pay attention I have seen/heard lots of pitches for whitening products, but not one used the T word.

Is there something wrong with the word “teeth”? When did we decide we needed a euphemism for them? I don't quite get it. It reminds me of the Victorian bluenoses who insisted on referring to "limbs" because they could not bring themselves to say "legs."

The capper came in an e-mail from WebMD, with the topic "How Diabetes Affects Your Smile." Since the effects were to the gums, it seems the euphemism is spreading. Where will it end? As Will Shakespeare pointed out (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII) we all end "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vehicles of Vanity

Did you know there is a snazzy new technology that allows you to contact people you spot tooling down the highway, or cutting you off in the mall parking lot, by keying in the auto license plate number? Me, either, until a couple of weeks ago when I saw the founder of BUMP—the name of this new "online community"—on Larry Kudlow's show. Think of it as a truly mobile Facebook.

Somehow I don't think there will be a lot of "friending" going on. Still, the company has cheery expectations for car-to-car communications. The Web site says "A survey undertaken by indicates that more than a third of respondents are interested in networking with people in other cars."

They may be right. I have been amazed by the success of a lower-tech version of "car-to-car communication"—the vanity license plate. As someone little interested in proclaiming my view of myself or my surroundings on the rear of my conveyance, I have watched the proliferation of vanity plates with some bemusement. Two questions pop into my mind when I see them: What are they trying to say to me? And why?

Some plates are easy to understand. Here in the Football Capital of the Known Universe, there are many that let passersby know which team the car owners root for, as though the bumper stickers, door magnets and window flags weren't enough of a clue. Then there's GMOTHER, GRLZCAB, LUV4TY, and the SmartCar known as LTL GUY.

But so many plates only mystify. What to make of PMOMMY? Yes, toilet training is a trying time, but unless your name is Duggar, it passes soon enough. Or the Honda Civic labelled FITSME. If you've ballooned from XXL to hatchback, it's time to hit the gym, dude. How about CME4ICE? Is there really such a job as ice salesman?

Some plates have charm even if I don't know what they're trying to communicate. I like the Range Rover that proclaims MOBETTR, the silver sedan greeting fellow drivers with L-CHAIM, and the Mini with the I {Heart} NY bumper sticker and GROUCHO plate. I also want to hear the story of the driver who chose MOR2IT as her license plate.

Others are just scary. I kept a good two car-lengths back from the car sporting the SCREWIT plate. The Silverado dubbed NFORCER was worrisome, and the venerable Buick in need of a paint job was sketchy enough without the addition of the MTHR5HP plate.

But if I sign up with BUMP, I know the first plate I'll dial. I've only seen that pickup truck once, but I've been wondering about it ever since. What does it mean? Why? Please explain your vanity plate, LEGMAKR.

Monday, March 26, 2012

You said it, Inigo

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

How often I have quoted this great movie line! The world is filled with Vizzinis using words with reckless abandon. There's the blogger who reports that a diet book author “was able to beat a chronic health issue in his life by using the strategies implored in The Perfect Health Diet.”

I find most diet books bark orders. Imploring might work better for me. 

Then there's the columnist who wrote: "If you like his over-the-top enthusiasm for public-employee union collective-bargaining rights at the municipal and state levels, why not urge him to get consistent and signify for unionized federal-employee collective-bargaining rights, as well?"

I think that sentence signifies the need for a dictionary.

You say the big media outlets never fall into such weird word usage? Here's the Washington Post: “Since 2004, earthquake scientists have been caught off guard, or to some extent consternated, by huge killer earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, Haiti, China, Japan and New Zealand.”

They have been caught consternated? Aren't there over-the-counter remedies for that?

But for sheer confusion, I nominate this offering from the OMG Facts Web site: “American soldiers found one of Cher Ami's decapitated legs with a message!” 

Cher Ami, apparently, was a messenger pigeon during World War I* and didn't live to tell the grandkids war stories. Decapitated legs! Inconceivable!

*N.B. This has been corrected per Don's comment. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Whole Lotta Verbing Going On

The signs of spring-to-come are unmistakable around here—azalea blossoms, pine pollen, and primary politicians. And language starts reproducing like mosquitoes. Specifically, I have noted a surge in verbing—the process of turning a noun into a verb.

I can hear what you're saying. Get a grip, cranky. Language is living. It must grow and change to survive. I know that. Really. I don't condemn verbing willy-nilly. (The only thing I do willy-nilly is housework—if, in fact, I do it at all.) But there has to be a brake as well as an accelerator if this vehicle is going to travel smoothly on the highway of communication. I just happen to be one of the world's natural brakes.

Since we are in the throes of a presidential primary here in the Word Crank homeland, I'll mention a brand-new verb I heard for the first time about this time last year—"to primary." This seems to mean "run for election in a primary," as in will Politician X primary? Or worse, the passive voice subspecies: "Will President Obama be primaried?" Apparently, that means "will some unnamed politician run against the one (in this case, Obama) that the primary happens to.

Let me go on record as saying I'm against it—the verb, not the process. I vote "no" on the following propositions, as well: 1. A nutritionist recently spoke of a diet “that will plaque your arteries;” and 2. A radio spot for a heating and A/C company flogs an air conditioner that can be adjusted if you don’t want “to comfort an unused room.”

To be fair, that last example may not be verbing. Maybe there are people who are so sensitive that they apologize to spare rooms so as not to hurt their feelings.

Is verbing ever good? Yes. Sometimes you need a verb to fill in a gap in the language. Witness "to diet" and "to summit." They work. And there are times when a newly hatched verb is a delight. At a recent choir practice, we singers apparently were not being expressive enough in a passage of music, so the director implored us to "marcato it!"

That communicated perfectly. It also seems like pretty good advice for living. You only go around once. Marcato it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

It's an Epidemic

We are experiencing an epidemic in this country. You see the signs everywhere. Literally.

The typo virus infects one out of every one Americans—at least the semi-literate ones with access to a keyboard. Many would like to think it hasn't hopped the Atlantic and infected Europe—they're just too smart over there, you know—but I think we're kidding ourselves about that. We just don't speak their funny languages well enough to recognize the symptoms.

There are all sorts of pictures floating around the Internet of people holding hand-lettered signs that mangle words. Yes, they're funny, but at least they have the excuse of lacking a spellcheck feature in their Magic Markers.

What do you make of a national magazine's Web site's story on “Essential Gear for Smart Travel” that includes a recommendation for “Tumi Wheeled Garmet Bag”? Or a New York Times opinion piece that warned of “the usual gang of fearmongerers"? Actually, I'm giving the Times the benefit of the doubt, because I'd hate to conclude that they think "fearmongerer" is a word.

Another magazine's Web site included a list of movies appropriate for Valentine's Day and included the most recent version of Pride and Prejudice with this description: "Matthew Macfadyen woes the brilliant Keira Knightley." Well, he really does "woe" her until she comes to her senses.

Also on the list was 1945's I Know Where I'm Going, in which Wendy Hiller heads to Scotland but "on the way she meets dashing navel officer Robert Livesey." I don't want to think what a "navel officer" is.

It really matters what keys, and in which order, you press when creating a written communication. Pay attention, America!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Laissez les bons pralines rouler

Mardi Gras is almost here. I can tell because purple, green, and gold masks and beads have come out of hiding to brighten cloudy February days. So it's a good time to tackle a New Orleans-style controversy—how to pronounce "praline."

I say "praw-leen." Always have; always will. I was in college before I heard the other pronunciation—"pray-leen." Now I rarely hear anything else. It's disturbing. My handy computer dictionary does not even list a second pronunciation, smugly assuring me that "pray-leen" is correct.

On the other hand, my trusty OED and Merriam-Webster at least offer the option of the traditional Southern pronunciation. The folks at say that outside the South, "pray-leen" rules, but "a praline is what we are providing here at and the pronunciation is PRAW-leen."

That's the spirit.

Here is a recipe for traditional pralines. They're so rich, you may want to stash a few in a safe-deposit box. You're on your own if you want to make pray-leens.

1-1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1-1/3 cups water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups pecans

Dissolve all ingredients except pecans over low heat; bring to a boil. Cover and cook about 3 minutes. Uncover and cook to 234 degrees (soft-ball stage). Remove pan from heat and cool to 110 degrees. Beat until candy thickens and loses its gloss.

Drop large spoonfuls onto to wax paper. Work quickly as it gets too thick very quickly.

[This recipe is from the yellowed pages of the copy of Joy of Cooking I received as a wedding present. And, yes, in my thinner youth, I made these wonderful pralines. Those were the days.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Who Will Edit the Editors?

Roman poet Juvenal asked "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who will guard the guardians? Here was a guy who understood human nature. In this time when we so often defer to experts, it's good to keep in mind that we are all caught in the snare of feeble humanity. Even those experts.

I've been reminded of this bit of wisdom lately while visiting blogs on writing. Sure, anybody can put their two cents out into the blogosphere ("Right you are, Word Crank!"), but if you're writing about writing, wouldn't you think you'd try to write right?

Don't misunderstand. I'm not pointing a shocked finger and saying "How dare you, sir?" In many cases I know how they dare—it was a mental blip that spellcheck was unable to detect. This happens to me, too. Yes. (I know you're stunned.)

That's what happened to a guy who has an excellent blog that calls the Writer's Digest Web site its home. You can't have a better platform than that, for credibility and traffic. Even so, he wrote: "Plus, remember this key tenant of marketing: …"

Is the key tenant the guy in the corner office? Don't all the tenants have keys?

Other mistakes are harder to explain. Actually they are easy to explain. They are just harder to forgive.

Here's a published author analyzing the appeal of cozy mysteries: "The heroes are real people, ordinary citizens like you or I…" Ick. I know we hear this horrendous misuse of the first person pronoun a lot these days, but come on, writers. We're better than that.

Now this one I have a harder time understanding: "I'm currently looking for anybody who is in the process of promoting their first novel, either through a mainstream publishing house or through the self-publishing route, who would be willing to share a little bit about themself…"

Themself? Spellcheck would definitely catch that. As I write it, it has put an angry dotted line beneath this pseudo-word.

Letting that ridiculous mistake make it onto the Information Superhighway is like walking out the front door with your shoes on the wrong feet and your dress on backwards. Sure, you're dressed, but you're not inspiring confidence.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Everyone's a Critic

I've been thinking about books and readers, and how and why they come together. Why does one person love a book that the next person hates? (Writing a novel will do that to an otherwise normal person.)

The truth is, there's no knowing. Even if my novel turns out as close to perfect as I can make it, some people—actually, lots of them—will not like it. That's a bitter pill to swallow, but grab a big glass of water. It's got to go down. And if one of those admittedly strange people happens to be the acquisitions editor to whom I have submitted my manuscript, well, that's all she wrote. Literally.

A fellow author provided a generous helping of perspective by mining readers' reviews on sites such as Goodreads. I checked, and these reviews are real from actual people (or, in the case of the first example, some life form cleverly disguised as a human).

I am the original Jane Austen freak. I am on record as saying that Pride and Prejudice is the most perfect novel in the English language. It is the fiction pearl-of-great-price. But here's what one reader had to say: "This book is quite possibly the most insipid novel I have ever read in my life. I would rather read Twilight twelve more times than read this again."

I cannot fathom that. Insipid? Did she miss all the humor? The social commentary? The unblinking assessment of human nature? I guess so.

Here are few of the more astounding comments: “Just people acting stupidly for no apparent reason except to be disagreeable.” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll. “It is incredibly flowery, particularly strange given the “thriller” genre that it tries being a part of.” Dracula, Bram Stoker. “First, C.S. Lewis… is not a good writer, plain and simple.” Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. “What is seriously lacking in Tolkien’s world is any original idea or just imagination in general.” The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.

So I'll be in pretty good company if (when) someone says they hate my writing. Many writers consider a bad review a badge of honor. I'm beginning to see why.

It might surprise the Goodreads reviewer that Tolkien responded to his criticism long ago: "Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, found it boring, absurd, and contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their work, or of the kind of writing they evidently prefer."

Ouch. Another of my favorite authors, P.G. Wodehouse, characteristically responded to critics with humor. In a novel foreword, he wrote, "“A certain critic—for such men, I regret to say, do exist—made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.' He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cigar Time 2012

Another year has burst upon us, and what better way to celebrate than to pass out virtual smokes to those who got "close, but no cigar"—hapless speakers and writers who missed their targets by a millimeter or a mile.

The "Bless Your Heart" Award goes to the decorator who wrote in an e-mail that she had found a pretty bedside table at a "flee market." I think that means the mall.

The "Well, That's the Way It Sounds" Award is shared by a couple of bloggers. The first detected "deep-seeded hate" in someone who was not even a gardener. The second wrote on relationships, noting "Grant it, in many situations these long-term couples were young when they met and may have grew apart." (The WTTWIS Award is for the "grant it," not the "have grew." That's a different problem altogether.)

The "I've Never Seen This Word in Print" Award goes to a radio host who clarified that the "and" in a Web address was an "ampersign."

The "What's a Mixed Metaphor?" Award goes to another radio personality who assured his audience that "No team has the corner market on lunatic fans." Worthy of mention, of course, but he got the corner market on this award by declaring that someone "bit the farm." I just can't manage a visual on that one.

The "SpellCheck Can't Help You" Award goes to a celebrity gossip site that someone must have told me about because I would never waste time on that rubbish. Here's what I, um, I mean, somebody found there: "Craig found two new targets: Tony Blair, and, low and behold, politicians in general."

The "SpellCheck Can Make Things Worse" Award is presented to the Travel Channel's Web site. “Serial killer Albert Disavow, The Boston Strangler, murdered 13 women in Beacon Hill and other areas of Boston.” Um, that’s Albert DeSalvo. I figure the only way to get Disavow out of DeSalvo is through the magic of Spellcheck.

The "Give My Regards to Broadway" Award goes to a commenter to an online opinion piece, who declared "For too many years members of all media have hidden behind our belief in their pledge to just get the story regardless of who came out looking bad as a result. You know… 'just the facts mame’…" Sure. Put the blame on Mame.

Go ahead, award winners, smoke 'em, 'cause you got 'em.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Posh talk? Pish-tosh.

It's January, and we are in the high season for that winter parlor game known as the making and breaking of New Year's resolutions. Some party poopers refuse to play, but most of us join the game with varying levels of enthusiasm and hope. Personally, I'm afraid of what my life would devolve into if I gave up the game altogether.

That doesn't mean I resolve to do anything earth-shaking. No, my resolutions have become fairly modest—there's the usual "eat better" and "exercise more," but since the baseline for comparison is my December diet and exercise regimen, i.e., eating enormous quantities of high-calorie food and strolling through department stores, those resolutions are not as ambitious as they might seem. 

But I haven't stopped there. I am truly committed to self-improvement. I also have resolved to use, mostly, the proper fingers to type numbers in 2012, and to give "hallowed" the right emphasis when reciting the Lord's Prayer. No more sing-song "hal-LOWED" for me from now on.

Of course, if someone had given me Pocket Posh Word Power: 120 Words You Should Know for Christmas, I'd really be approaching perfection. The book description on Amazon starts off like this: "Words such as propinquity, armillary, and farrago should be vocabulary staples."

Wow, really? Those are great words, make no mistake, but staples? I'm particularly fond of "farrago," defined as "a confused mixture." Yes, that could come up quite a bit. "Sweetie, I love you, but your place is a farrago of dirty clothes, dirty dishes and dirty dirt." I'm not sure I want to have to take that from my friends and family.

As for "propinquity," well, I've got less use for it. "Honey, your propinquity with the TV screen is going to hurt your eyes." Meh. Doesn't work for me.

But the prize has to go to "armillary." Seriously? An armillary sphere—its friends call it simply "armillary" for short—is that farrago of metal hoops and arrows representing the heavens that astronomers used before they had computer programs for that sort of thing. An armillary certainly is a posh bit of home decor, but since I don't have a posh house, I don't own one. And even if I did, how often would I talk about it? "I don't think I can make it to your party. I've got to dust my armillary."

I guess I won't be doing any posh talking in 2012. It's just as well. I'm pretty sure no one would understand me if I did.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

That does not translate

Happy New Year, one and all.

As today is a Sunday, it is fitting that my first grump of 2012 comes from the Bible. I am tempted to go Old Testament on the translators of the New Revised Standard Version who gave us this: "Then Ahab said to Obadiah, 'Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.'"

Wadis? This passage is from 1 Kings, chapter 18, which, most likely, was written in the 6th century B.C. Why have the translators inserted an Arabic word that can be traced back no further than the 17th century? (The language did not coalesce into early Arabic until centuries after Christ's birth.) Did they think it would lend a little Middle Eastern flavor to Ahab's orders? Sorry, guys. Despite Ray Stevens' song (which I trust will now be going through your mind, as it is mine), Ahab was not an Arab.

Maybe a message I received in the course of business can shed light on the translators' motives. After an exchange of e-mails, my e-correspondent sent me this gem: "I hope you aren’t offended by my explanation marks, I am not being rude by any means, just think they look better than periods."

I had not previously heard exclamation points called "explanation marks," but I was dumbfounded with the explanation of the marks. She just likes the way they look! Isn't that how we all choose our punctuation?

Those translators just liked the sound of "wadis" ever so much better than "stream beds" or "valleys." Never mind if it's a weird anachronism that probably does not communicate to many English speakers. It rolls off the tongue so nicely! And looks so much better with explanation marks!

It's 2012. Do you know where your sanity is?