Dictionary

Dictionary

Last week one of the bloggers I follow, Linda at The Task at Hand, wrote an entertaining piece about spelling correctly in this age of spell-check.  Linda is one of the most adroit wordsmiths I’ve encountered, but she writes about unknowingly misspelling detritus (which she spelled as detrius) for years.  We’ve all been there.  The English language is fraught with trip wires just waiting to slip us up.

The comments on that post are as interesting and delightful as Linda’s post, and there Linda reveals one of her victories championing language — she convinced the manager of her local grocery store to change the signs on its express lanes from “15 Items or Less” to “15 Items or Fewer.”

Well, that reminded me of Garrison Keillor’s story about English Majors.  Keillor, a fellow English major, first broadcast this piece on his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion.  I’ve copied the script here for your convenience and pleasure:

Garrison Keillor: …after a word from the Partnership of English Majors…

(AMBIENCE, INTERIOR, STORE)

Tim Russell: Can I help the next person in line?

GK: I don’t know-CAN you?

TR: What are you talking about, sir?

GK: Just that “can” means “able to” — Are you ABLE to help the next person in line? Only you would know. What you meant to say was, “MAY I help you” — may I be permitted to help you?

TR: Whatever. Anyway, this is the 10 items or less line.

GK: Actually, it’s the 10 items or FEWER line. “Fewer” refers to number and “less” refers to amount. You’d say, “I ate less spaghetti than she did,” but you’d say “I have fewer than ten items in my grocery cart.”

TR: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even like spaghetti. — hopefully you have less than ten items in your cart, or otherwise MAY I tell you to get your ass over to the other line—

Sue Scott: I wish people wouldn’t misuse the word “hopefully,” —

GK: Oh, hi.

SS: Hi. You must be an English major too.

GK:: You?

SS: Yes, of course.

TR: Look— I’ve got people waiting in line—

SS: Are you a writer too?

GK: I try.

SS: (GASP) Be still, my beating heart. I write memoirs.

GK: I do, too.

SS: How fortuitous. What a small wonderful world.

TR: Cash or charge, sir?

GK: I admire you sticking up for correct usage, especially of the adverb “hopefully” — it’s a battle I gave up long ago—

SS: You did?

GK: Sadly, yes. The language evolves and I’m afraid we must accept it.

SS: Frankly, I wish I could, but something bridles within me at the sound of it.

TR: Folks — could we move it or park it?

GK: I admire you purists but I’m afraid I’ve moved on.

SS: Perhaps we ought to talk — you and I —

GK: I’d love that—

TR: Paper or plastic?

SS: Might you have time now?

GK: Of course. Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.

SS: Thoreau. Walden.

GK: Very good.

TR: People? Please—

SS: One of my favorite books when I was growing up.

GK: One of mine too. What are you reading now?

SS: Now?

GK: I mean, what are you reading these days?

SS: I’ve gone back to Dickens. “Little Dorrit”.

GK: Lovely. I never read that—

SS: Everything Dickens wrote is so rich, so utterly teeming with life— populated by feeling and color and tension—

TR (ON P.A.): Security to Cash Register 4, please. Security—

GK: In a world of casual violence to our language, when you do meet a fellow lover of English, why not take time to get acquainted? The Partnership of English Majors.

SS: We’re different from others, so it behooves us to stick together.

“Her own way was to make art out of the very things that absorbed her attention in her own life.”
— William Deresiewicz, A Jane Austen Education:  How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Matter

I am loving this book, A Jane Austen Education

I am fewer than 50 pages into William Deresiewicz’s book, A Jane Austen Education:  How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, and I am already ready to recommend this book!  I love what he says about the lessons in Emma acknowledging that it is the accumulation of “minute particulars” that comprise a life:

“To pay attention to ‘minute particulars’ is to notice your life as it passes.  But it is also, I realized, something more.  By talking over their little daily affairs — and not just talking them over, but talking them over and over, again and again . . . — the characters in Emma were doing nothing less than attaching themselves to life.  They were weaving the web of community, one strand of conversation at a time.  They were creating the world, in the process of talking about it.”

Here are a few of the “minute particulars” of my day so far:

The last of this season's raspberries, fresh picked

Tomatoes ripening on the kitchen windowsill

Coffee shop patron enjoying a warm autumn day at an outdoor table