Mr. Language Person: Watch your language

 

(This Dave Barry column was originally published 0ctober 25, 1998)

At this juncture in the time parameter, we once again proudly present ''Ask Mister Language Person,'' the No. 1 rated language column in the United States according to a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey of consumers with imaginary steel plates in their heads. The philosophy of this column is simple: If you do not use correct grammar, people will lose respect for you, and they will burn down your house. So let's stop beating around a dead horse and cut right to the mustard with our first question:

Q: I often hear people use the word ''irregardless,'' as in: ''Irregardless of what you may or may not think, moths are capable of remorse.'' So finally I decided to look ''irregardless'' up in the dictionary, but I can't figure out what letter it begins with.

A: Grammatical experts disagree on this.

Q: What are the correct lyrics to the song ''It's Howdy Doody Time!''?

A: According to the Library of Congress, they are as follows: ''It's Howdy Doody Time! It's Howdy Doody Time! It's Howdy Doody Time! It's Howdy Doody Time!''

Q: Who wrote those lyrics?

A: Cole Porter.

Q: I am in the field of business, and people keep saying they want to ''touch base'' with me. They'll say, ''I just wanted to touch base with you on the Fooberman contract,'' or ''We need to touch base on the rental sheep for the sales conference.'' But my understanding of the rules is that if you touch base WITH somebody, at the same time, at least one of you is out. So my question is, who the heck is ``Fooberman''?

A: We decided to consult with William Safire, one of the top experts in the language field, but his number is not listed.

Q: I'm never sure when I should use the word ''principle'' and when I should use ''principal.'' Is there an easy way to remember the difference?

A: Here's a simple memory device for distinguishing between these two similar-sounding words (or ''sonograms''): Simply remember that ``principal'' ends in the letters ''p-a-l,'' which is an antonym for ''Police Athletic League''; whereas ''principle'' ends in ''p-l-e,'' which are the first three letters in ''Please, Mister Postman,'' by the Marvelettes. If this memory device does not work for you, we have a more effective technique involving a soldering iron.

Q: When the Marvelettes sing, ''Deliver de letter, de sooner de better,'' are they using correct grammar?

A: No. The correct grammar would be, ''Deliver de letter, irregardless.''

Q: Did alert reader Johnny G. Stewart send you an amusing automotive review from the Lewiston, Idaho, Morning Tribune?

A: Yes. It states: ''A short-throw six-speed Borg-Warner transmission means classic Pontiac excitement and the fun of a well-timed shift.''

Q: What's so amusing about that?

A: There was a letter missing from ''shift.''

Q: Can you cite some other examples of language usage sent in by alert readers?

A: Certainly.

John Triplett sent in a Heartland America catalog advertising baseballs that were ``hand-signed by Mickey Mantle before his death.''

W. Michael Frazier sent in an editorial from the Huntington, W. Va., Herald-Dispatch containing this statement: ''We believe if you have too much to drink at a holiday party, insist on driving yourself home.''

Susan Olp sent in an Associated Press story concerning a lawsuit verdict in which a lawyer is quoted as saying: ''It sends a message to gas companies in Wyoming that gas companies better operate safely because people are not going to tolerate being blown up.''

Thomas Caufield sent in a San Jose Mercury-News story about a Stanford University instructor, containing this statement: ''Since his suspension, Dolph has continued working as a manager in the university's lab for cadavers. In that position, he deals mainly with faculty members, Jacobs said.''

Several readers sent in an Associated Press story concerning a Vermont high school student who disrobed during her graduation speech; the story quotes school administrators as saying the incident ``was not reflective of our student body.''

Renee Harber sent in a police log from the Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette Times containing this entry: ``12:38 p.m. July 20. Report that a man near the Crystal Lake boat ramp was threatening to kill the next person he saw wearing a kilt.''

TIPS ''FOR'' WRITERS: In writing a screenplay for a movie, be sure to include plenty of action.

WRONG: ''To be, or not to be.''

RIGHT: ''LOOK OUT! GIANT RADIOACTIVE SQUIRRELS!''

Got a question for Mister Language Person? Send it in, and you could receive a baseball hand-signed by William Shakespeare shortly after his death.

Read more Dave Barry stories from the Miami Herald

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