Dave Barry

Maurice, the space cowboy

This Dave Barry column was originally published on Aug. 9, 1992.

Once again it's time for the popular educational feature "Ask Mister Language Person, " brought to you this week by Ray's House of Fine Adverbs. Remember Ray's motto: "Proudly Serving You, Eventually."

Our first grammar question today comes from concerned reader Brian Cameron of Elora, Ontario, who writes: "Just what does it mean when someone says, 'But, by the same token?' "

A. In grammatical terminology, this is what is known as a "constipating conjunction." It is used to separate two statements that would sound stupid if they were right next to each other.


* "Unemployment will definitely decrease. But, by the same token, it could increase."

* "In 27 years of marriage, Todd never noticed Marie's tentacle. But, by the same token, he was a fine tennis player."

Q. In the song The Joker, what is the mystery word that Steve Miller sings in the following verse:

Some people call me the space cowboy

Some people call me the gangster of love

Some people call me Maurice

'cause I speak of the (SOMETHING) of love.

A. According to the Broward County Public Library, the word is "pompatus."

Q. What does "pompatus" mean?

A. Nothing. Steve made it up. That's why some people call him "the space cowboy."

Q. How come we say "tuna fish?" I mean, tuna IS a kind of fish, right? We don't say "tomato vegetable" or "milk dairy product" or "beef meat, " do we? And how come we call it "beef?" How come we don't say "I'll have a piece of cow, rare?"? And how come we say "rare?" And how come the waiter always says, "DID you want some dessert, " instead of "DO you want some dessert?" Does he mean, "DID you want some dessert, before you found those hairs in your lasagna?" And how come everybody says "sher-BERT, " when the word is "sher-BET"? And how come broadcast news reporters end their reports by saying, "This is Edward M. Stuntgoat, reporting." What else would we think he's doing? Hemorrhaging? And how come some people call Steve Miller "Maurice?"

A. Those particular people call everybody "Maurice."

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT QUAYLE (reading from a cue card): You forgot the "e" in "tomatoe." Alsoe "Ontarioe."

Q. When your son, Robby, was doing a fourth-grade homework assignment that required him to use the word "combine" in a sentence, what sentence did he write?

A. He wrote: "Unfortunately, many people have died being shredded by a combine."

Q. Are you making that up?

A. No.

Q. Are you concerned about it?

A. No. But, by the same token, yes.

Q. According to a March 18, 1992, New York Times article sent to you by alert reader Melanie Allen, what were Russian anarchists chanting at a Moscow street demonstration?

A. They were chanting: "Eat Gaseous Worms." The Times states: "Nobody figured out what this was supposed to mean, but the slogan stirred considerable emotion."

Q. "Gaseous Worms" would be a good name for a rock band.

A. Yes. Another one would be "Raymond Burr's Legs."

Q. What do The Dalai Lama's friends call him in informal social settings?

A. They just call him by his first name.

Q. They call him "The?"

A. Yes. They say, "Hey, The! Don't hog all the Tater Tots!"

Q. According to alert reader Wes Munsil, what can the letters in "H. ROSS PEROT" be rearranged to spell?

A. "SHORT POSER." Two other combinations, developed by top editors in the Style section of the world-famous Washington Post, are "SPORT HORSE" and "POSH RESORT."

Q. Did they work these out on company time?

A. Of course. They are journalists.

Q. Speaking of journalists, did an alert reader named Dennis Fazekas recently send you an article from the Tulare, Calif., Advance-Register concerning a prisoner who escaped from the Tulare courthouse?

A. Yes.

Q. And what did the headline say?


TODAY'S TIP FOR NOVEL WRITERS: Remember that you can make big money if your novel is made into a movie, so in your writing, always be alert for opportunities to include scenes that will appeal to the motion-picture industry.

WRONG: "Apprehensively, Hugo entered the room."

RIGHT: "Apprehensively, Hugo entered the room and found Julia Roberts in there naked."

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT QUAYLE: You forgot the "e" in "Hugoe."