Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Dry Sense of Humor

Bill from Maple City, Michigan, asked about the use of the word dry in the phrase a dry sense of humor. A dry sense of humor involves delivering a joke as if it were a serious matter. There is no prompt to laugh; the humor sneaks up on you because of the emotionless delivery.

Galen—a Greek physician and philosopher—seems to have been responsible for the use of dry in a manner more nuanced than simply the opposite of wet. He subscribed to the theory of humors—bodily fluids that accounted for moods. He took what he considered the four universal elements (wet, dry, hot, and cold) and applied them to personality characteristics. A dry personality was matter-of-fact, impassive, undemonstrative.

Later applications of the word dry emphasized lack of affect, stiffness, coldness, and a general unpleasantness, but a dry sense of humor falls more on the side of irony and slyness. A good example of a comedian who typifies a dry sense of humor is Steven Wright. 

Here’s an example of a dry sense of humor:

A devoutly Christian cowboy was herding cattle when, unbeknownst to him, his bible fell out of his saddlebag. Later that night, when he went to read his nightly bible passage, he was crushed to learn that it was missing.

The next morning, he was approached by a cow. It walked up to him and dropped a bible at his feet. Amazed, he looked towards the sky and exclaimed, "It's a miracle! It’s a miracle!”

"Not really," replied the cow, "You wrote your name on the inside cover."


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Saturday, July 18, 2015

Than I or Than Me?



Shirley from Spider Lake asked which of the following is correct:
            John is taller than me.
            John is taller than I.

This one has an answer that will satisfy few people. Given the right circumstances, both can be correct. A quick review: I is the subject form of the pronoun and me is the object form of the same pronoun.

The wild card is the word than. Sometimes it’s a preposition, and sometimes it’s a conjunction. If you view it as a preposition, then it requires an object: John is taller than me. If you see it as a conjunction, then it will be followed by a subject/verb construction: John is taller than I am—or, in its abbreviated form, John is taller than I.

Ambiguity is nothing surprising in English. If someone were to ask if the noun hockey is a subject or an object, the correct answer would be, “that depends.” If you write hockey is a dynamic sport, the word hockey is a subject. Write I really enjoy hockey, and it’s an object. Compounding matters, talk about a hockey stick, and it's an adjective.


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Fair to Middling


Doug from Traverse City asked about the phrase fair to middling. It is now used mostly in response to the question “How are you doing?” The colloquial reply is, “fair to middling.” It seems to have originated in America in the mid 19th century, and it means O.K.—not spectacular and not disastrous.

Originally, it appears to have been used as part of a rating scale. The rating system ran, more or less, from fine to good to fair to middling to poor. It was used to rate the grade of cotton. Fair to middling would place the crop as average to low-average in quality, and the price would be set accordingly.

The phrase was used for other commodities, too, such as corn meal, flour, livestock, fruit, clothing, and even meals. The noun middling goes all the way back to Old English, where it signified an intermediate stage. The adjective middling appeared in the mid 15th century, where it meant moderate in size, strength, or quality.


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Wednesday, July 01, 2015

-self pronouns

Ann from Traverse City called in to complain about an increase in the misuse of pronouns ending in -self. They are being used in place of object pronouns, as in “Give the check to John or myself,” or “According to herself, the price of coffee will continue to rise.”

Ann has a valid point. Those sentences should read, “Give the check to John or me,” and “According to her, the price of coffee will continue to rise.” Of course, being of Irish descent, I make allowance for the imperial deferential mockingly used by Irish wives: “Himself wants another cup of tea.”

There are some valid pronouns ending in –self; they include myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. There are two kinds, and their type is determined solely by their position in the sentence.

The intensive pronouns are used to intensify or emphasize the subject of the sentence or another noun or pronoun in that sentence. They are placed side by side with the word they are emphasizing.

  •     I myself witnessed the accident.
  •    He himself claims to have been abducted by aliens.
  •      The play itself was designed to stir the king’s conscience.
  •    We wrote the letter to the Mayor herself.
  •    You yourselves are responsible for this mess.


Reflexive pronouns point back to the subject.

  •        I witnessed the accident myself.
  •       You should let yourself enjoy the magic of the moment.
  •        We pride ourselves on superior value and service.
  •        She pays herself a hefty salary.
  •        They like to sit in the dark all by themselves.


Remember that if the verb is in the imperative mood (a command), the unwritten subject is always the silent pronoun you.

  •         Please let yourself in when you arrive; the door is unlocked.
  •        Don’t sell yourselves short.


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Dona Sheehan's prints