Dave Barry

Mr. Language Person: Some words of wisdomality

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Aug 27, 2000.)

Welcome to ''Ask Mister Language Person,'' written by the foremost leading world authority on the proper grammatorical usagality of English, both orally and in the form of words. In this award-winning column, which appears nocturnally, we answer the grammar and vocabulary questions that are on the minds of many Americans just before they pass out.

Today, as is our wont, we begin with our first question:

Q. You have a wont?

A. Yes, but we comb our hair such that you cannot see it.

Q. With regards to the old spiritual song, ''Gwine Jump Down, Turn Around, Pick a Bale of Cotton,'' why is the singer gwine jump down and turn around first?

A. He is hoping that he gwine pull a hamstring, and somebody else gwine have to pick the bale of cotton.

Q. I work in Customer Service, and my co-workers and I are having a big debate about whether we should say that your call is ''very'' important to us, or ''extremely'' important to us. We argue about this all day long! My question is, how do we stop these stupid phones from ringing?

A. Someone will answer your question ``momentarily.''

Q. I am a speechwriter for a leading presidential candidate, and I need to know which is correct: ''integrity OUT the wazoo,'' or ``integrity UP the wazoo.''

A. We checked with both the Oxford English Dictionary and the Rev. Billy Graham, and they agree that the correct word is ``wazooty.''

Q. I have trouble remembering the difference between the words ''whose'' and ''who's.'' Should I put this in the form of a question?

A. In grammatical terminology, ''who's'' is an interlocutory contraption that is used to form the culinary indicative tense.

EXAMPLE: ``You will never guess who's brassiere they found in the gumbo.''

''Whose'' is the past paramilitary form of ''whomsoever'' and is properly used in veterinary interrogations.

EXAMPLE: ``Whose gwine spay all them weasels?''

Q. I am a writer for ''The Sopranos,'' and I've been arguing with one of my colleagues over the correct wording of some dialogue. I think it should be: ''Bleep you, you bleeping bleeper!'' Whereas he insists it should be: ''Bleep yourself, you bleeperbleeper!'' So I had him whacked.

A. Now he bleeps with the fishes.

Q. Are you going to flagrantly pad this column with actual examples of language usage sent in by alert readers, as is your wont?

A. Of course:

--David Davidson sent an article from the Tybee News containing this statement about the mayor of Tybee Island, Ga.: ``He also said an older woman suffered a broken hip when a dog pounced on her and read a long letter from someone supporting the dog ban.''

--Tim O'Marra sent in an article from the Skagit Valley (Wash.) Herald containing this sentence: ``Suspecting the action was suspicious, the officer ordered both of them to raise their hands.''

--Chaz Liebowitz sent in an article from The Miami Herald that begins: ``Davie police are searching for a man with a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun to rob a convenience store Wednesday.''

--Several readers sent in an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch concerning a dump-truck driver who ''dropped more than 59,000 pounds of processed human excrement on Interstate 295'' and was charged with ``failure to contain his load.''

--Sue Colson sent in a ''Police Blotter'' item from the Port Aransas (Texas) South Jetty, consisting entirely of this fascinating statement: ``No goat was found in the trunk of a vehicle when an officer responded to a complaint on East Avenue G at about 1:20 p.m.''

TODAY'S WRITING TIP: In writing a resume, make sure that it is ''up to date'' and reflects current economic conditions:

WRONG: 'I am currently working for a `dot-com' company.''

RIGHT: ``I am currently living in an appliance carton.''

GOT A GRAMMAR QUESTION? Your question is very important to Mr. Language Person.