Ask Mr Language Person

HomeFunplexLanguage and English

Ask Mr. Language Person
by Dave Barry

Once again our glands are swollen with pride as we present "Ask
Mister Language Person," the column that answers your common
questions about grammar, punctuation and sheep diseases. Mister
Language Person is the only authority who has been formally
recognized by the American Association of English Teachers On
Medication. ("Hey!" were their exact words. "It's YOU!")

So without farther adieu, let us turn to our first question,
which comes from a reader who has just returned from a trip
to England.

Q. I have just returned from a trip to England, and . . .

A. We KNOW that. Get to the point! You're wasting space!

Q. OK, sorry. Anyway, I have just returned from a trip to England, and I
noticed that the English put an extra "u" in certain words, such
as "rumour," "humour" and "The Roulling Stounes." Also they call
some things by totally different names, such as "lift" when they
mean "elevator," "bonnet" when they mean "lorry" and "twit" when
they mean "former Vice President Quayle." My question is, don't
they have any dentists over there?

A. Apparently nout.

Q. Please explain the correct usage of the word "neither."

A. Grammatically, "neither" is used to begin sentences with compound
subjects that are closely related and wear at least a size 24,
as in: "Neither Esther nor Bernice have passed up many Ding
Dongs, if you catch my drift." It may also be used at the end
of a carnivorous injunction, as in: "And don't touch them
weasels, neither."

Q. My husband and I recently received a note containing this sentence:
"Give us the money, or you seen the last of you're child." I say
that the correct wording should be "you have done seen the last
of you're child," but my husband, Warren, insists it should be
"you have been done seeing the last of you're child." This has
become a real bone of contention, to the point where Warren
refuses to come out of the utility shed. What do you think?

A. We think that an excellent name for a band would be: "The Bones of

Q. I have noticed that newspapers often state that they have obtained
information from "informed sources." Who are these sources?

A. We cannot tell you.

Q. Why not?

A. Because the Evil Wizard will turn them back into snakes.

Q. As an employee of the Internal Revenue Service, I have been tasked
with the paradigm of making our income-tax forms more "user
friendly" for the average American citizen, who according to
our research has the IQ of a sugar beet. I am currently working
on this sentence from the form 1040 instructions: "A taxpayer
who dies prior to the fourth trimester of the previous non-exempt
year must, within 10 fiscal days of kicking the bucket, file
Form 94-82348-RIP, which has not been available since the
Eisenhower administration." How can I make this sentence less

A. According to the Association of Professional Tax Professionals, a much
clearer wording would be: " . . . which has not been available
since the Eisenhower administration (1952-60)."

Q. When should I say "phenomena," and when should I say "phenomenon?"

A. "Phenomena" is what grammarians refer to as a "subcutaneous invective,"
which is a word used to describe skin disorders, as in "Bob has
a weird phenomena on his neck shaped like Ted Koppel." Whereas
"phenomenon" is used to describe a backup singer in the 1957
musical group "Duane Furlong and the Phenomenons."

Q. What was their big hit?

A. "You Are the Carburetor of My Heart."

Q. What is the most fascinating newspaper photograph caption you have
ever seen?

A. That would be the caption to a 1994 photograph from the Billings, Mont.,
Gazette, sent in by alert reader David Martin. The photo, which
accompanies a very serious story on efforts to end the civil war
in Angola, shows some bikini-clad women on a beach, looking at a
man who is holding a monkey. The caption states, in its entirety:
"An Angolan carries his pet monkey Sunday on a beach in Angola as
leaders of the country sign a new peace agreement."

Q. Can you please reprint the top two headlines from the cover of the
October, 1996, issue of Reader's Digest?

A. Certainly:

You Can Raise Your Child's IQ

Q. In Publication No. 51 of the U.S. Postal Service, which was sent in
by alert reader Oljan Repic, how is the term "Special Handling"

A. It is defined as "a service that is optional except when mailing
honeybees to Canada."

TODAY'S BUSINESS WRITING TIP: In writing proposals to prospective clients,
be sure to clearly state the benefits they will receive:

WRONG: "I sincerely believe that it is to your advantage to accept
this proposal."

RIGHT: "I have photographs of you naked with a squirrel."


More Language and English

  1. [page] A Prayer For Sid Klein
  2. [page] A Pronunciation Exercise
  3. [page] American English Vs The Real McCoy
  4. [page] Apostrophe
  5. [page] Ask Mr Language Person
  6. [page] B O O K Tm
  7. [page] Book Potatos
  8. [page] Bookstores
  9. [page] Buzz Word Synthesizer
  10. [page] Correct Definitions
  11. [page] Dave Barry On Grammar
  12. [page] Double Positive
  13. [page] Doublespeak
  14. [page] Down With Plain English
  15. [page] End Of The World Headlines
  16. [page] Gender Grammar
  17. [page] Grammar Police
  18. [page] Grammar And Spelling Troubles
  19. [page] Green Eggs And Hamlet
  20. [page] Had Had Had Had Had Had Had A Riddle
  21. [page] Hamlet Was Really A College Student: The Literary Evidence
  22. [page] Hemingway Sightings
  23. [page] How To Address A Politically-Correct, Non-Sexist Business Letter
  24. [page] How To Phrase It
  25. [page] How To Talk To People
  26. [page] Important Vocabulary
  27. [page] It Is Fundamentally True That The Terms Below Are In English
  28. [page] Jabberwocky After A Trial By Spell Checker
  29. [page] Journalists And The Stock Market
  30. [page] Language Barriers
  31. [page] Language Trends Of The Future
  32. [page] Medieval Vs Modern English
  33. [page] New Definitions
  34. [page] Only
  35. [page] Only Dweebs Read Books!!
  36. [page] Oops!! Coca Cola Typo!!
  37. [page] Opposites
  38. [page] Oxymorons
  39. [page] PC Little Red Riding Hood
  40. [page] Plurals
  41. [page] Poem About A Spell Checker
  42. [page] Porpoises
  43. [page] Pun-ny
  44. [page] Regional Humor Page
  45. [page] Roses Are Red
  46. [page] Shakespearian Insult Kit
  47. [page] Shakespearian Insults
  48. [page] Simian Shakespeare
  49. [page] Sniglets
  50. [page] Stop That Bulletin!!
  51. [page] Tandem Story
  52. [page] Taters
  53. [page] The Duel
  54. [page] The History Of The English Language
  55. [page] The Importance Of Correct Punctuation
  56. [page] The Pluperfect Virus
  57. [page] The Ten Commandments In Ebonics
  58. [page] The Three Little Politically Correct Pigs
  59. [page] The Top 16 Plays Shakespeare Chose Not To Publish
  60. [page] This Is The Title Of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times In The Story Itself
  61. [page] Verbose Mother Goose
  62. [page] Verbose Writing
  63. [page] Verbs Is Fun
  64. [page] Vowels To Bosnia
  65. [page] Worst Paragraph Winners