In response to numerous requests from the American Association of English Teachers On Drugs, we once again present "Ask Mr. Language Person," the column so authoritative that it recently received a question from none other than William Safire. (He asked: "Didn't I tell you to stop using my name?")
Our first language question today comes from concerned reader Larry Miller, who asks:
"Has there ever been a study done to determine the percentage of people, living or dead, who do not say to themselves while listening to 'The Wedding March,' "big, fat and wide," after 'Here comes the bride'?"
A: According to researchers at the Harvard University School of Medicine and Hair Design, 83 percent of all Americans say this to themselves, while 76 percent often find themselves, around Christmas, quietly singing "We three kings of Orient are, tried to smoke a rubber cigar."
Q: Speaking of religion, what is the name of the reindeer that comes right before "Blitzen"?
A: Mr. Language Person was sure that it was "Donner," but he got into a big argument about this with his Research Division, Judi Smith, who said it was "Donder."
Q: "Donder"? What kind of reindeer name is "Donder"?
A: That was Mr. Language Person's point, until the Research Division did a bunch of research and produced all kinds of documentation proving that "Donder" is correct.
Q: Did you fire her?
A: No, but she is on probation.
Q: What is the official slogan of the Wenatchee World, which is the newspaper in Wenatchee, Wash., population 48,000?
A: We have here a copy of the front page, sent in by alert reader Stephen Dail, and right under WENATCHEE WORLD it proudly states: "Published in the Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest."
Q: What, exactly, does the Power Belt of the Great Northwest do?
A: It holds up the Pants of Progress, thereby preventing them from falling down around the Ankles of Infrastructure, which would cause the entire region to hurl the Moon of Economic Stagnation.
Q: Please explain how to diagram a sentence.
A: First spread the sentence out on a clean, flat surface, such as an ironing board. Then, using a sharp pencil or X-Acto knife, locate the "predicate," which indicates where the action has taken place and is usually located directly behind the gills. For example, in the sentence: "LaMont never would of bit a forest ranger," the action probably took place in a forest. Thus your diagram would be shaped like a little tree with branches sticking out of it to indicate the locations of the various particles of speech such as your gerunds, proverbs, adjutants, etc.
Q: I don't have an ironing board.
A: Well then forget it.
Q: Recently I heard a radio news announcer say, and I quote: "Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are going to TRY AND discover a cure for ear hair" (emphasis added). My question is, who was "Johns Hopkins"?
A: He was the brother of Bobs Hopkins.
Q: Well, then who added the emphasis?
A: Probably teen-agers.
Q: Do you remember "Fizzies," which were these round little things that were advertised on kids' TV shows in the 1950s, and you dropped them into a glass of water, and they fizzed up like an Alka-Seltzer and allegedly turned the water into a delicious soft drink, although in fact it tasted hideous to the point of toxicity, but that did not stop some kids from putting Fizzies directly onto their tongues, which caused these kids to foam at the mouth like crazed dogs with some new strain of grape-flavored rabies? What are the long-term effects of doing that?
A: There should be a federal study. Mr. Language Person did that.
Q: Me too. Let's form a support group and sue somebody.
A: We could include all the people who, as children, drank from "Flavor Straws."
Writing tip for professionals: To make your writing more appealing to the reader, avoid "writing negatively." Use positive expressions instead.
WRONG: "Do not use this appliance in the bathtub."
RIGHT: "Go ahead and use this appliance in the bathtub."