Focusing on Words Newsletter #10

(the tenth newsletter of a series that was formerly presented to subscribers by the Sr. Scribe, a.k.a. John Robertson)

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The Senior Scribe is trying to find more info for his project.

Books (Words) are the carriers of civilization. Without books (words), history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.

—Modified from a Barbara W. Tuchman quote about books and history.
Reader Responses to U. S. Teachers and Cheating from Newsletter #9
Dear John:

I read your e-mail on the deplorable state of education in the United States.

Having taught both high school and college, I must admit that the comments are quite accurate. I must say that I am certainly doing my best to maintain high standards both at the university and high school levels and your newsletters have been a great help in helping me achieve this.

Best regards,


I enjoyed your latest newsletter about the problem of cheating and the watering down of the curricula in most academic areas. In my first teaching position almost forty years ago, I took a boy's History Regents paper away from him . . . along with his copious "cheat notes" and went to the Principal.

The result? I almost lost my job for daring to ruin this young person's life. The same Principal later asked me to remark the State Regents exams and see if I couldn't upgrade some of them because "they weren't going to be reviewed at the state capital that year and who would know the difference."

I'm happy to report I didn't, but it wasn't easy and the pressure on teachers to bend the rules has only grown worse. I don't know what the answers are, but you are right to highlight the problem.
Best wishes,

Hi John:

You have made some excellent points about education and Americans. I see this all the time. I have a Montessori Pre-school and we have "before and after-school kids" from three districts and it's amazing what they don't know and yet bring home "A's" and "B's".

Have you ever read the Leipzig Connection? I ran across it in a thrift store and it's the story of how America's education came to be what it is now.

Thanks for the wonderful newsletter. I don't say much about it but I do love getting it. You do a great job.

Real Headlines that Tend to Confuse and so Amuse

These are REAL Headlines with double meanings that have appeared in newspapers from around the world. The list was contributed to this newsletter by a friend; otherwise, the source is unknown.

  • March Planned For Next August
  • Blind Bishop Appointed To See
  • Lingerie Shipment Hijacked - Thief Gives Police The Slip
  • L.A. Voters Approve Urban Renewal By Landslide
  • Patient At Death's Door - Doctors Pull Him Through
  • Diaper Market Bottoms Out
  • Stadium Air Conditioning Fails - Fans Protest
  • Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped
  • Antique Stripper to Display Wares at Store
  • Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
  • Fund Set Up for Beating Victim's Kin
  • Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years
  • Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One
  • Autos Killing 110 a Day; Let's Resolve to Do Better
  • If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last A While
  • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
  • Blind Woman Gets New Kidney from Dad She Hasn't Seen in Years
  • Flaming Toilet Seat Causes Evacuation at High School
  • Defendants Speech Ends in Long Sentence
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Stiff Opposition Expected to Casketless Funeral Plan
  • Collegians are Turning to Vegetables
  • Quarter of a Million Chinese Live on Water
  • Farmer Bill Dies in House
  • Eye Drops off Shelf
  • Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death
  • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
  • Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
  • Deaf College Opens Doors to Hearing
  • Prosecutor Releases Probe into Undersheriff
  • Old School Pillars are Replaced by Alumni
  • Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training

And even in Germany-

From the Mendener Zeitung: "748 Männer arbeiten im Rathaus, 312 davon sind Frauen." (748 men work in the city hall of which 312 are women).

From the March 20, 2000, issue of DER SPIEGEL, page 270.

That reminds me of a statement made by George W. Bush a few weeks ago when he was speaking about children and parental responsibilities; especially, of fathers. I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio) and Bush was saying, "Every father is responsible for his or her children."

Was this an extraordinary effort on his part to be PC (politically correct)?

Newly formed words from The Washington Post

The Washington Post recently published a contest for readers in which they were asked to supply alternate meanings for various words. The following were some of the winning entries:

  • Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
  • Carcinoma (n.), a valley in California, notable for its heavy smog.
  • Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
  • Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
  • Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
  • Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightie.
  • Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
  • Gargoyle (n.), an olive-flavored mouthwash.
  • Coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon.
  • Flatulence (n.) the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
  • Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
  • Semantics (n.), pranks conducted by young men studying for the priesthood, including such things as gluing the pages of the priest's prayer book together just before vespers.
  • Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.
  • Frisbatarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck there.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are some recent winners:

  • Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the reader who doesn't get it.
  • Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
  • Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very high.
  • Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of obtaining sex.
  • Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously.
  • Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.
  • Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like a serious bummer.
  • Glibido: All talk and no action.
  • Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  • Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
Dan Quayle and Groucho Marx Quotes

Dan Quayle quotes:

  • “A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.”
  • “I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy, but that could change.”
  • “If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure.”
  • “I love California; I practically grew up in Phoenix.”
  • “I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.”
  • “It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
  • “One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice-president, and that one word is “to be prepared.”
  • “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.”
  • “The future will be better tomorrow.”
  • “The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history. I mean in this century’s history. But we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century.”
  • “The loss of life will be irreplaceable.”
  • “We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.”
  • “We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe.”
  • “We’re going to have the best-educated American people in the world.”
  • “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”
  • “When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame."

    "Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.”

  • “Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.”

Groucho Marx quotes:

  • “A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
  • “Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”
  • “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
  • “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
  • “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
  • “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.”
  • “When I picked up your book I was so convulsed with laughter that I had to set it down, but one day I intend to read it.”
  • “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
  • “Some people claim that marriage interferes with romance. There’s no doubt about it. Anytime you have a romance, your wife is bound to interfere.”

You may go here to the Focusing on Words Newsletter index to see other newsletters.