Author Archives: Alison

About Alison

FDR & Hitler were still alive when I was born, but just barely. Raised to be a snob, especially about words -- how they're used and pronounced and spelled. Retired from office work but not from Glossophilia. Travel quite a bit, often revisiting sites I already like (cf. re-reading favorite books). I listen to opera and other classical music, AKA 'good' music, and go to concerts & operas in NYC and on my travels. I take a lot of photographs. I am very close to a younger sister who lives nearby and have an elderly dachshund. I am nowhere nearly as snobbish about red wines as about words, writing, speaking and behavior, but then I know a lot less about red wines.

Those goofy New York Times headlines!

A very sad headline in the NYT of May 15, 2011 is so badly written that I had to laugh.

“For Second Time in 3 Days, NATO Raid Kills Afghan Child”

It seems that mean old NATO has killed the same poor Afghan child twice in only three days (why didn’t the first time work out, NATO gunners?). Alas, of course the headline writer meant to convey the sorry fact that within the last three days two separate Afghan children have been killed in NATO raids.

Perhaps if NATO and the US government would clean up their war acts, the Times could clean up its headline-composing act and we’d all be a lot healthier and happier – and more Afghan children could grow to adulthood.


What’s the problem with “no problem”?

Almost no one says “you’re welcome” when thanked these days. The exceedingly rude-sounding “no problem”, or — much worse — “no worries”, is the usual response (if ANY) to the simple “thank you”. “No problem” is tossed back with utter lack of care or notice – appropriately enough, since it indicates brain-death like a flatline. If you know enough to respond to thanks offered you for a task or deed, you should know enough to say “you’re welcome”.

Whenever a shop assistant (aka “team-member”, “associate” — of what or whom?, I ask myself) answers my thanks with “no problem”, I reply “I should HOPE there’s no problem; it’s your JOB” upon deaf ears and to a blank stare. But I’ve noticed that when I congratulate (and thank) the utterer of “you’re welcome” for her or his usage of the appropriate response to thanks, I get a pleasant reply. I rest my case.

PS. What, I wonder, will replace thank you, or thanks? Oh, that’s already happened: no thanks!

They’re there …

Louise’s witty elaboration on that-witch-which reminds me of one of my peeves about spelling mistakes that result from ignorance (or just bad spelling): they’re-there-their (there are more on my list of peeves, but they’ll  have to wait).

Most people have a problem distinguishing their from there, which seems to me as easy-to-solve a problem as there is in the English language’s miasma of spelling problems.

They’re is there because THEY ARE is being contracted  — as it usually is in when spoken — to THEY ‘RE by the insertion of an apostrophe (more on that little beast anon). The apostrophe replaces a SPACE between the words and the A that begins ARE (that’s why it’s called, appropriately enough, a CONTRACTION).  And in this case, the contraction means that more than one person or object is placed somewhere in the space/time continuum. They are in New York. They’re in Germany. They’ve left their traces in outer space. Who? The stars in outer space.

Their and there are subject to mix-ups, I expect, mainly because of spelling or typing errors.  But an easy way to distinguish them might be to see THEIR as having an I in it, signifying a person, and in this case more than one person (or thing) with one or more possessions or attributes:  I like Siamese cats because their eyes are blue, and – look over there! – they don’t shed their hair all over the place.



Bismarck, his Mutti, his – and my – antipathies

“A great hater, Bismarck’s first antipathy was directed at his mother: ‘Hard and cold,’ he called her. His father – a weak, ineffectual Junker, if you can imagine such a thing – merely embarrassed his brilliant son, whose bullish character first surfaced in drinking and dueling.”   (Quoted from a review, by George Walden, of “Bismarck, A Life”, the new biography by Jonathan Steinberg, posted at

A classic case of misplaced modifier, this gaffe is offensive on two fronts.  First, it seems anti-feminist; second, it implies – nay, states outright – that Bismarck’s ANTIPATHY was “A GREAT HATER”, when what it wants to say outright is that BISMARCK was “A GREAT HATER”, and that the first object of his hatred was his own female parent.  A surprise, say you?

This sends me down a thought-path to the fact that many nations’ natives refer to the country where they were born, raised, or currently live, as the FATHERLAND. Bismarck’s most famous product, Adolf Hitler, used the word VATERLAND to great effect.  But the denizens of the largest of Germany’s traditional arch-enemies, Russia (aka the Soviet Union), always referred to their country as MOTHER RUSSIA or the MOTHERLAND.

And we poor shmoes in the United States of America?  Upon us the term HOMELAND was foisted by right-thinking (i use the term specifically) wordsmiths after “Nine/Eleven” (along with the alleged Security achieved by the patting-down of every airline passenger in the USA – or headed this way from anywhere else on the Globe).  Is this nomenclature, now nearing its tenth birthday, an unintentionally left-wing idea from the right-wing thought-police?  Heaven preserve us from giving our HOMELAND a sexist title! Did the Republicans really buy this?  What do they call the USA, besides insisting that it’s the greatest darn country ever invented and perfeclty peerless in every way?

My family’s favorite way of demonstrating the dreaded misplaced modifier is: “Kicking and screaming, she took the baby out of the room.”  But I admit that it’s a long way between that simple and idiotic example about Otto von Bismarck and his Mutti and my latest disquisition.  And so, should we just go ahead and Blame It All on Frau Bismarck? Oh, let’s!

Next: shall we parse “… whose bullish character first surfaced in drinking and dueling. …”?


Keep to the right, please!

Not that I want to see serried ranks of humanoid bots, but… (actually, that’s not a bad idea)

We city walkers are speedy, as the Times tells us, but why does no one keep to the right on the sidewalk these days?  Subway platforms and pavements and stairways are more crowded than ever, but we pedestrians and stair-climbers (and -descenders) would all be better off if we kept – for the most part – to the right.  I am not talking about politics, mind you.   The prevalence of sidewalk bridges and scaffolding exacerbates the problem.  Such distractions as store windows, vendors, interesting sights and sites to check out, intersections to cross, and dog-poop to avoid (don’t get me on a sidetrack), frequently call for a move to the left, and might, on occasion, be excused.

I’ve made a casual study of the predicament, and I trace it, like so many problems of today, to bad schooling at home and away from home.  Can you imagine such a thing – difficult, isn’t it?  Most of the little ones in our crowded schools – and even the bigger kids – are no longer instructed to keep to the right in hallways, on stairs, or outdoors, not even during fire drills!  I often plow through the crowds on the pavements of my neighborhood shouting “Keep to the right, keep to the right”, and of course people pay no attention; who would want to give the impression she pays heed to street-loonies?  My first grade teacher is probably whirling in her grave, as is YOURS!

But seriously: even the London Underground, a paragon system, has well-placed signs on the long, steep escalators at some stations requesting that riders keep to the RIGHT (not LEFT).  I would love to see sparkly new city-posted signs reading PLEASE KEEP TO THE RIGHT along the busiest sidewalks of New York City.  They’d be a sight for the sore eyes of this city walker, and probably for a few hundred thousand of her fellow pedestrians.

Mahler IX led by Andris Nelsons

James Levine’s lamentably long and continuing absence from public performances gave New Yorkers an opportunity to hear Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons at work with the Boston Symphony at Carnegie Hall, conducting the Mahler Ninth Symphony.   Nelsons recently led the New York Philharmonic in the Shostakovich Fifth, and is now conducting Tchaikovsky’s “Pique Dame” at the Met, which institution prefers the title “Queen of Spades” – a possibly confusing moniker in this multi-faceted town.

A New York Times critic found the Boston Symphony during the concert “for the most part … not … sounding its best”, and experienced the performance as “almost a touch too loud”. Toward the end of the 80-plus-minute symphony, “in contrast to the general hubbub, the strings produced moments of glorious quietude, which fades from quieter to quietest. … But in moments of comparative stillness in the first movement, where other instruments were playing around the strings, those instruments stole attention,” much the way ill-chosen words can spoil an otherwise fine passage of writing.

More than (not “over”) 20 years ago, I attended a rehearsal and performance of the same piece in the same hall, in the company of the same critic (both of us were then in other jobs). Herbert von Karajan was leading “his” Berlin Philharmonic.  I’d wager that The Critic, like me, was thinking of those performances the other night, while the Boston Symphony played.  I enjoyed the Nelsons performance more than The Critic did, not least because of many of the effects Nelsons elicited (or did the orchestra offer them on its own?) by using beautifully delicate finger-gestures. Of course The Critic is paid to criticize, and I (a non-professional) pay to attend (and enjoy, or not) the concert, as well as to read his review.  In this case I enjoyed a great deal about the performance of this long and complicated piece, which Mahler himself, alas, never heard; I’ve heard perhaps 25 times in my life and count this as one of the fine ones. Lucky me.



top o’ the marnin’ t’ yuz, and remaining on topic

An Irishman approached the foreman at a job site to ask whether work might be available.

“I note you’re Irish,” said the foreman.

“Aye,” said the Irishman.

“Well, if you want to work in construction, you have to tell me the difference between a girder and a joist.”

“Aye,” said the Irishman.  “Girder was German and Joist was Irish.”






oder/ou du und ich, toi et moi, kid

Giving a lovely textbook definition below, L wrote:

“Glossophilia is a love of language, be it foreign or native.  The term refers to a deep and passionate love for language and the structure of language.  Glossophiles study literary terminology as well as grammar, punctuation and language structure.  Glossophiles share an interest in lexical choice and imagery.”

I don’t know whether glossophiles are also generally nit-pickers, but I’ll bet it’s part of the genome.  So I will add that MY purpose in this endeavour is to nit-pick.  Actually, nit-correct!  Not knit-pick – that’s what my nit-picking mother did after her concentration upon her needles and wool wavered for a moment (e.g. when she started nit-picking with one of us), and she had to REMOVE STITCHES.  [I’ve done that on a few occasions when i didn’t want to return to the doctor after s/he sewed up a wound. Such behaviour sows bad feelings among medical professionals.]

L, a mother herself, is more lenient and forgiving than I, but can be a demon nit-picker as well. It’s probably why we first disliked one another (not each other) because of our competitive natures’ competing in the work-place. And also probably why we fell in, like thieves, once we recognized related sense of humor and figured out that it was toi et moi, baby – inside the workplace as well as outside it.

I don’t wish to stop the development of language, but I detest the throwing-out-of-the-baby-with-the-bathwater that my favorite language, ENGLISH, has been subjected to in a time when The Word (I refer not to the Bible) is more spoken than written – or written well. I do not blame its abuse upon “non-native-speakers”. So I will nit-pick here as in the rest of my life.

PS: I also love German and, to a lesser extent, French, as well as Italian. I can’t believe how much I love German, especially after hating it from a distance until my late ‘twenties, when I discovered German Lieder and began to learn the language from poets like Schiller and Goethe, through Schubert and Schumann’s songs (to name only a fraction).  I speak French, but not Italian, and love how they sound when sung.