Dave Barry

What perspired here?

(This Dave Barry column was originally published Sept. 2, 2002.)

It's time for another installation of ''Ask Mister Language Person,'' the penultimate authority on grammatorical issues; the column that puts the ''p-u'' in punctuation; the only language column that was endorsed by both Jane Austen and William Shakespeare just before they died together in a romantic car crash.

Today we regret that we must begin our column with this: TERRORIST THREAT WARNING

We have received some alarming information from very high sources in the federal government.

Q. How high were they?

A. They were wearing their underpants on their heads.

According to these sources, terrorists may be planning an attack on America's linguistic infrastructure. The targets will be critical strategic phrases without which this nation cannot function, including: ''Like''; ''You know''; ''Like you know''; ''Like you know what I mean?''; ''Like you know what I'm saying?''; ''Have a nice day'' and ''Your call is very important to us.'' Keep a sharp ear out, and if you hear anybody using any of these phrases in a suspicious manner, you should immediately notify the Attorney General. Speak directly into the fly of his briefs.

We turn now to answering common language questions, starting with one sent in by an anonymous resident of Washington, D.C., who writes:

Q. I am the chief justice of the United States, and I'm hoping you can settle an argument. I say the correct wording is: ''My mother says to choose the very best one and you are it!'' Whereas my colleagues insist that it should be: ''My mother says to choose the very best one and y, o, u, spells YOU!'' Please answer promptly, as this involves the death penalty.

A. We put your question to the American Bar Association, which sent us a 127-page response.

Q. What does it say?

A. We have no idea.

Q. What is the correct usage of the phrase ``being as how''?

A. It is correctly used as follows: ``Steer clear of the gumbo, being as how Bernice can't find her hair net.''

Q. As far as grammar, what is the difference between ''bring'' and ``take''?

A. ''Bring'' is a prehensile imprecation that must be used in the vindictive tense.

EXAMPLE: ``Earl should of never brung Silly String to the viewing.''

Whereas ''take'' is used in fraternal exhortations.

EXAMPLE: ``Take a gander at THEM headlamps!''

Q. How come airplane pilots always tell you to ``sit back and enjoy the flight''?

A. They find it amusing when you break the nose of the person sitting behind you.

Q. As a fourth-year medical student, I am wondering if there is any way to remember the difference between ''prostrate'' and ``prostate.''

A. We contacted the Mayo Clinic, which informs us that surgeons there use this simple poem:

If two R's are found, it is down on the ground

If one R is on hand, then it is a gland.

Q. What about ''transpire'' vs. ``perspire''?

A. That one still has them stumped.

Q. Do you have any true examples of strong grammar usage that you are not making up, sent in by alert readers?

A. You are darned tooting:

-- Pat Anthony sent in a letter to the editor published in the El Dorado News-Times in Arkansas, which begins as follows: ``I would like to apologize for my stupid acts and irresponsible behavior. I know I shouldn't have rode my horse into town drunk much less in Wal-Mart.''

--Terry Zeri sent in a sign from the wall of a restroom in Fremont Lake, Wyo., which states: ``THIS RESTROOM IS CLEANED BY VOLUNTEERS. PLEASE HELP US KEEP THEM CLEAN.''

--Anne Morter sent in a police-blotter item from the Lake County Examiner in Oregon, concerning a woman arrested for allegedly abusing geese. The item states that the woman ``was released under the conditions that she is to have no contact in person, by telephone or through a third party with geese.''

TODAY'S WRITING TIP: In writing a letter of recommendation for an employee, be sure to give it a ``positive spin.''

WRONG: Bob occasionally has a problem with his temper.

RIGHT: Bob took full responsibility for the firebomb in Accounts Receivable.

(c) Dave Barry