Ask Mr. Language Person

by Dave Barry

 		Once again our glands are swollen with pride as we present "Ask 
		Mister Language Person," the column that answers your common 
		questions about grammar, punctuation and sheep diseases.  Mister 
		Language Person is the only authority who has been formally 
		recognized by the American Association of English Teachers On 
		Medication. ("Hey!" were their exact words. "It's YOU!")

		So without farther adieu, let us turn to our first question, 
		which comes from a reader who has just returned from a trip 
		to England.

	Q. I have just returned from a trip to England, and . . . 

	A. We KNOW that. Get to the point! You're wasting space!

	Q. OK, sorry. Anyway, I have just returned from a trip to England, and I 
		noticed that the English put an extra "u" in certain words, such 
		as "rumour," "humour" and "The Roulling Stounes." Also they call 
		some things by totally different names, such as "lift" when they 
		mean "elevator," "bonnet" when they mean "lorry" and "twit" when 
		they mean "former Vice President Quayle." My question is, don't 
		they have any dentists over there?

	A. Apparently nout.

	Q. Please explain the correct usage of the word "neither."

	A. Grammatically, "neither" is used to begin sentences with compound 
		subjects that are closely related and wear at least a size 24, 
		as in: "Neither Esther nor Bernice have passed up many Ding 
		Dongs, if you catch my drift." It may also be used at the end 
		of a carnivorous injunction, as in: "And don't touch them 
		weasels, neither." 

	Q. My husband and I recently received a note containing this sentence: 
		"Give us the money, or you seen the last of you're child." I say 
		that the correct wording should be "you have done seen the last 
		of you're child," but my husband, Warren, insists it should be 
		"you have been done seeing the last of you're child." This has 
		become a real bone of contention, to the point where Warren 
		refuses to come out of the utility shed. What do you think?

	A. We think that an excellent name for a band would be: "The Bones of 

	Q. I have noticed that newspapers often state that they have obtained 
		information from "informed sources." Who are these sources?

	A. We cannot tell you.

	Q. Why not?

	A. Because the Evil Wizard will turn them back into snakes.

	Q. As an employee of the Internal Revenue Service, I have been tasked 
		with the paradigm of making our income-tax forms more "user 
		friendly" for the average American citizen, who according to 
		our research has the IQ of a sugar beet. I am currently working 
		on this sentence from the form 1040 instructions: "A taxpayer 
		who dies prior to the fourth trimester of the previous non-exempt 
		year must, within 10 fiscal days of kicking the bucket, file 
		Form 94-82348-RIP, which has not been available since the 
		Eisenhower administration." How can I make this sentence less 

	A. According to the Association of Professional Tax Professionals, a much 
		clearer wording would be: " . . . which has not been available 
		since the Eisenhower administration (1952-60)." 
	Q. When should I say "phenomena," and when should I say "phenomenon?" 

	A. "Phenomena" is what grammarians refer to as a "subcutaneous invective," 
		which is a word used to describe skin disorders, as in "Bob has 
		a weird phenomena on his neck shaped like Ted Koppel." Whereas 
		"phenomenon" is used to describe a backup singer in the 1957 
		musical group "Duane Furlong and the Phenomenons."

	Q. What was their big hit?

	A. "You Are the Carburetor of My Heart."

	Q. What is the most fascinating newspaper photograph caption you have 
		ever seen?

	A. That would be the caption to a 1994 photograph from the Billings, Mont., 
		Gazette, sent in by alert reader David Martin. The photo, which 
		accompanies a very serious story on efforts to end the civil war 
		in Angola, shows some bikini-clad women on a beach, looking at a 
		man who is holding a monkey. The caption states, in its entirety: 
		"An Angolan carries his pet monkey Sunday on a beach in Angola as 
		leaders of the country sign a new peace agreement." 

	Q. Can you please reprint the top two headlines from the cover of the 
		October, 1996, issue of Reader's Digest?

	A. Certainly:

		 You Can Raise Your Child's IQ

	Q. In Publication No. 51 of the U.S. Postal Service, which was sent in 
		by alert reader Oljan Repic, how is the term "Special Handling" 

	A. It is defined as "a service that is optional except when mailing 
		honeybees to Canada." 

	TODAY'S BUSINESS WRITING TIP: In writing proposals to prospective clients, 
	be sure to clearly state the benefits they will receive:

		WRONG: "I sincerely believe that it is to your advantage to accept 
			this proposal." 

		RIGHT: "I have photographs of you naked with a squirrel." 


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