Monday, January 29, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dave Barry

Now. Another Chat With Mr. Language Person

ONCE again we are pleased to present Mister Language Person, the internationally recognized expert and author of the authoritative ``Oxford Cambridge Big Book o' Grammar.''

Q. What is the difference between ``criteria'' and ``criterion''?

A. These often-confused words belong to a family that grammarians call ``metronomes,'' meaning ``words that have the same beginning but lay eggs underwater.''

The simplest way to tell them apart is to remember that ``criteria'' is used in the following type of sentence: ``When choosing a candidate for the United States Congress, the main criteria is, hair.'' Whereas ``Criterion'' is a kind of car.

Q. What is the correct way to spell words?

A. English spelling is unusual because our language is a rich verbal tapestry woven together from the tongues of the Greeks, the Latins, the Angles, the Klaxtons, the Celtics, the 76ers, and many other ancient peoples, all of whom had severe drinking problems.

Look at the spelling they came up with for ``colonel'' (which is actually pronounced ``lieutenant''); or ``hors d'oeuvres,'' or ``Cyndi Lauper.'' It is no wonder that young people today have so much trouble learning to spell: Study after study shows that young people today have the intelligence of Brillo.

This is why it's so important that we old folks teach them the old reliable spelling rule that we learned as children, namely:

``I'' before ``C,''

Or when followed by ``T,''

O'er the ramparts we watched,

Not excluding joint taxpayers filing singly.

EXCEPTION: ``Suzi's All-Nite E-Z Drive-Thru Donut Shoppe.''

Q. What the heck ARE ``ramparts,'' anyway?

A. They are parts of a ram, and they were considered a great delicacy in those days. People used to watch o'er them.

Q. How do you speak French?

A. French is very easy to speak. The secret is, no matter what anybody says to you, you answer, ``You're wrong,'' but you say it with your tongue way back in gargle position and your lips pouted way out like you're sucking grits through a hose, so it sounds like this: ``Urrrrooonnngggg.'' Example:

FRENCH PERSON: Ou est la poisson de mon harmonica? (``How about them Toronto Blue Jays?'')

YOU: Urrrrooonnngggg.

FRENCH PERSON: Quel un moron! (``Good point!'')

Q. I know there's a difference in proper usage between ``compared with'' and ``compared to,'' but I don't care.

A. It depends on the context.

Q. Please explain punctuation?

A. It would be ``my pleasure.''

The main punctuation marks are the period, the coma, the colonel, the semicolonel, the probation mark, the catastrophe, the eclipse, the Happy Face, and the box where the person, whoever it might be, checks ``yes'' to receive more information.

You should place these marks in your sentences at regular intervals to indicate to your reader that some kind of punctuation is occurring. Consider these examples:

WRONG: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

RIGHT: O Romeo! Yo! ROMEO!! Wherethehellfore ART thou? Huh??

ROMEO: I art down here! Throw me the car keys!

Q. Does anybody besides total jerks ever use the phrase ``as it were''?

A. No.

Q. What is the correct form of encouraging ``chatter'' that baseball infielders should yell to the pitcher?

A. They should yell: ``Hum babe hum babe hum babe HUM BABE HUM BABE.''

Q. May they also yell: ``Shoot that ball in there shoot it shoot it SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT WAY TO SHOOT BABE GOOD HOSE ON THAT SHOOTER''?

A. They most certainly may.

Q. What is the difference between ``take'' and ``bring''?

A. ``Take'' is a transitory verb that is used in statements such as ``He up and took off.'' ``Bring'' is a consumptive injunction and must be used as follows: ``We brung some stewed ramparts to Aunt Vespa, but she was already dead so we ate them ourselfs.''

Q. What is President Bush's native language?

A. He doesn't have one.


A. We are not surprised.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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