Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:
Al Gast, Glen Burnie: A lot of people say and write "Aren't I?" when I think they should say "Am I not?"
I have had arguments about this with my friends and I would like you to find out for me which is correct.
COMMENT: Expect quite a bit for a crummy 50 cents, don't you, Al?
Well, I never let a reader down:
Since I do not possess a Sun stylebook (as my editors well know), I checked instead the Associated Press Stylebook; the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage; the New York Times Everyday Reader's Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, Mispronounced Words; and Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
All were silent on the subject that so captivates you and your friends. (And, gee, how I'd love to be a fly on the wall next time you guys get together!)
So I called the Grammar Hotline in Tempe, Ariz., which is staffed by the famous Professor J. J. Lamberts. His answering machine came on and told me, however, that Lamberts "is very ill and this service is temporarily suspended."
I didn't know, Al, if you wanted me to call the hospital and order them to remove the oxygen mask from Lamberts' face so he could answer your question, but I decided just to keep calling other grammar hot lines around the nation to see how much of The Sun's money I could squander.
I called the Grammar Hotline at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., but everybody was out de-tasseling corn or something. (By the way, Al, Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach publishes an annual directory of grammar hot lines, if you'd like to spend your own quarter next time.)
Next I called the Grammar Hotline at the University of Houston, Downtown Campus, and got Richard Jones.
And I asked him: Is it "Aren't I?" or is it "Am I not?"
He thought for a second and said: "Either. One is formal. One is not."
That's it? I said. That's all I can tell Al Gast and his rollicking band of merry grammarians?
"Well," Jones said, "I suppose 'Am I not?' is more erudite."
And if there is anything, I figured, that you'd like to be, Al, it's more erudite.
So there you have it.
And, by the way, Al, next time The Sun comes to your house with a couple of pages crinkled or the ink comes off on your fingers or the guy throws it in the bushes instead of on your porch, just remember: You owe us.
Owen Connolly, Baldwin: Some time ago I wrote to you asking that you provide your readers with a book title to let them decide who was really to blame for Pearl Harbor. The book is "The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor."
I feel as though you are an FDR supporter. But you should give your readers the opportunity to know about this book.
COMMENT: OK, but if it turns out Japan didn't do it, boy, are there going to be some red faces.
Ronald A. Perron, Glen Burnie: I have a little different theory about that alien who survived the UFO crash (that you wrote about). I think I know who that alien is. Let's look at the evidence:
1. He looks funny. He has alien ears that sort of stick out at an odd angle.
Could they be tiny receiving antennae so he can maintain contact with and get instructions from his extraterrestrial controllers?
2. He is from the same area of the country that most aliens seem to prefer: the Southwest.
3. He speaks little and says even less. Aliens always have trouble picking up the language and the vernacular.
4. He seems to have the whole country mesmerized. We all know from our childhood that aliens have the ability to transmit weird frequencies which can be hypnotic.
Have the courage to expose the truth about the fourth alien: It's Ross Perot!
COMMENT: I found your letter so droll that I passed it on to the Perot campaign staff in Dallas, who, like their candidate, are known for their unbridled sense of humor.
And I'm sure if Mr. Perot is elected, you will be one of the first to receive an all-expenses-paid six-month vacation in one of his new Re-education Camps for the Criminally Smart-Mouthed.