14-2 humor

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.



A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

14.2 (Spring 2014)


grammatical gaffes



Linguistic Death Watch


The little word “so” was classically (and remains logically) designed to pave the way for some kind of purpose or result.

examples: He was so happy that [as a result] he forgot all about the appointment.

We repaired the foundation so that [= in order that] the house might at least last through the winter.

We had repaired the foundation, so [as a result] we did not feel alarmed when the forecast announced severe weather.

Of course, “so” has been abused as an adverbial intensive interchangeable with “very” for almost twenty years now (e.g., “I’m so happy!”).  Just lately, however, its conjunctive function has lapsed into something very curious.  The closest alternative would surely be “well” used almost as reflective filler at a clause’s beginning—except that “so” appears to scuff over the need for reflection, as if to give the speaker time while feigning that no time is required.

example: “Mr. Mayor, the traffic situation seems to worsen every year, and the city budget is now running a surplus.  What do you think of the proposal to build a loop?”  “So… the city manager and I have discussed this thoroughly.”

 This usage does indeed appear to attach entirely to the spoken language for now.  One would hope that it would remain so [=thus]… but the hope is not supported by the contemporary tendency of all careless speech habits to muscle their way into print.



The metaphor is drawn from classical sculpture and architecture, wherein the basis is that upon which a finished work or column rests (though, in the latter case, “plinth” is the more proper word).  Now everything that has a basis appears to be “based off” that rest, in defiance of gravity.  Could it be that the first generation fully conditioned by the computer and the Internet, from the cradle on, can readily think in lateral/associational images but struggles with hierarchical ones?  Has Western culture’s vertical sense turned horizontal?  Hey, based off of our experience… I mean, why not?



“writhe” for “rife”:  e.g., “The office was writhe with resentment over Susan’s unexplained release.”

improbable source tale: The garden worms were not particularly fond of Farmer Brown’s shovel.  Though he meant them no harm, and even prized their contribution to his vegetables’ fertility, he could of course not see them where they squirmed about underground, and the sharp edge of the spade would sometimes slice them in two.  Every March, therefore, wormy nerves would get short.  The soil would almost be a-boil by mid-month, for the worm community was writhe with the rumor of the shovel’s approach.

“heroin” for “heroine”: e.g., “In most romances, the heroin is at last united with her lover.”

improbable source tale: Spider Woman was the ultimate female superhero.  She was fearless in her opposition to evil, and her secret powers also rendered her virtually indomitable.  Besides all of that, she was ravishingly beautiful when not wearing the sleek, dark gear of a nocturnal urban crusader.  Yet she met her match in the fast-talking, twisted-thinking Sophistocles.  This veteran of boardroom, court room, and back room (and corrupter of many a bed room) played upon Spider Woman’s naïveté and tender spot for the oppressed until she was forced—almost—to become his abject slave, or else to see thousands legally evicted from their homes.  Fortunately, the police arrived just in time.  The wily Sophistocles, usually so careful to stay just within the law’s boundaries, had at last slipped; for heroine possession carries a stiff mandatory sentence.

“self-riotessness” for “self-righteousness”: e.g., “Self-riotessness is difficult to tolerate in a man of God.”

improbable source tale: Preacher Parson had by all accounts begun his ministry with an uncommonly dedicated zeal to do good.  So successful was he at mortifying the flesh and abstaining from frivolity, however, that he perhaps lost patience with ordinary mortals over the years.  He had always viewed the village tag-ball team with a jaundiced eye, but had allowed its activities to pass largely unchallenged since young village men, after all, were kept from greater mischief by having their energy thus drained.  Nevertheless, when the team finally won the local championship, the situation got out of hand in the Preacher’s severe estimation.  There was cheering from village windows, dancing in village streets, tossing of village hats in the air, and even liberal sharing of the mild village wine.  The display grew insufferable.  Preacher Parson stalked into the square and shouted down all the cheers.  He seized dancers left and right and hurled them into puddles and shrubs.  He caught a dozen hats on their descent and tore them to shreds.  He hefted a great cask of wine so loftily that it split upon a rooftop.  “Shame on you all!” he roared fearfully.  “What example is this to set before your children?”  “A better one than your self-riotessness, Reverend,” mumbled an old beldame.

“thrive” for “strive”: e.g., “He exhorted the graduates to thrive after the fulfillment of their dreams.”

improbable source tale: A boy with a speech impediment was cruelly mocked by the other boys at school until he could take no more.  He decided to add to his diet a potent supplement whose label promised to give him mass and muscle.  The promise was fulfilled; he grew into a giant.  Indeed, in the final year of school, all the other students (who were terrified of him by now) voted him class president.  In that capacity, he stood at the podium during graduation and addressed a full auditorium.  Compressing his acquired wisdom into a poem, he finished with the unforgettable couplet, “Never thurrender to thtress, / Always thrive for thucceth.”

“pond” for “pawns”: e.g., “There is little I can do; all of us are mere ponds in this situation.”

improbable source tale: There was once an ordinary pond whose ambitions were too big for his banks.  This dwarf fancied himself a mighty ocean—as big a body of water, he boasted to the reeds and willows, as anyone had ever seen.  The spring rains, however, lifted the neighboring ponds so high that they spilled over, one into another, until the haughty little pond found himself absorbed into a great lake.  Naturally, he protested, for he had considered himself king of all the waters.  “My friend,” answered the adjoining pool as it splashed over him, “on the planet’s vast chessboard, we are all mere ponds.”