Sunday, August 31, 2014


A listener named Adele called to say that her son had snickered when she told him that her uncle, a naval engineer, had worked in the bowels of a ship during World War II. I guess her son would have preferred engine room, on the basis that bowels is too graphic an image. I told her to ignore her son, as I often do mine.

Bowel is an interesting word. It came from a Latin word (botellus/botulus) that meant sausage or pudding. Butchers would stuff animal gut or intestine to make sausage. The Latin root also shows up in botulism, a poisoning caused by improperly prepared or preserved food. Botuliform – shaped like a sausage – is also indebted to the same Latin word.

By 1548, bowels had expanded to mean the interior of anything, its center. The bowels of the earth became a cliché. Shakespeare used “the bowels of” many times. Examples include

Hastings: O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hopes in air of your good looks
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready with every nod to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.     [Richard III]

Thus far into the bowels of the land
Have we marched on without impediment . . .     [Richard III]

Aufidius:  Worthy Marcius,
Had we no quarrel else to Rome, but that
Thou art thence banished, we would muster all
From twelve to seventy, and pouring war
Into the bowels of ungrateful Rome,
Like a blood flood o’er-bear.     [Coriolanus]

It was great pity, so it was,
That villainous saltpeter should be digg’d
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth . . . .    [Henry IV, Part 1]

Exeter: Therefore, in fierce tempest is he coming
In thunder and earthquake, like a Jove,
And bids you in the bowels of the Lord
Deliver up the crown . . . .   [Henry the Fifth]

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

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Ben from Traverse City and someone else whose name I failed to record asked about the proper use of commas. Like it or not, some technical terms must be reckoned with in order to place commas correctly, so let’s start with a quick review.

A phrase is a group of words that does not express a complete thought because the unit does not have its own subject and its own verb:
  • ·      in the beginning
  •     looking for a bench to sit on
  •      a woman on a mission

A clause is a group of words that does have its own subject and verb, but there are two kinds -- one that is complete in itself (independent), and one that is limited (dependent) and must always be attached to an independent clause, thus forming a longer and more complicated sentence.

(1) An independent clause expresses a complete thought; nothing prevents it from being called a sentence.
  • ·      My dog’s name is Boo.
  •     My daughter is singing in a school musical tonight.
  •     Don’t forget to read Chapter 14 by Monday.

Two independent clauses may be joined into one by using coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, nor, so, yet, for.
  • ·      My dog’s name is Boo, and my cat’s name is Bodacious.
  •      My daughter is singing in a school musical tonight, so I won’t be home until late.
  •     Don’t forget to read Chapter 14 by Monday, or you may fail the quiz.

(2) A dependent clause does not express a complete thought because it is bound by a subordinating conjunction. Examples of subordinating conjunctions include because, while, although, as soon as, wherever. They always begin the dependent clause.
  • ·      Whenever I get a headache, I reach for the medicine cabinet.
  •      I’m limping because I sprained my ankle during a basketball game.
  •     As soon as dinner is ready, I’ll let you know.

Keeping all that in mind, here are some comma rules that will serve you well.

√ When two independent clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction, use a comma right in front of that conjunction.
·      She wanted to take that class, but her job interfered.
·      Tom writes the words, and Harriet writes the music.
·      Handle that knife carefully, or you will cut yourself.

√ Use a comma between words, phrases, and clauses in a series of three or more items. This is called the series rule.
·      I have lived in California, Iowa, Texas, and New Jersey
·      We looked in the attic, in the basement, and in the garage.
·      Michael made dinner, washed the dishes, put the baby to bed, did his homework, and then watched the game on TV.
In other words, when you have three or more items in your series, use one comma less than the number of items.

√ When a dependent clause or a phrase or a transitional word begins a sentence, use a comma right after it.
·      If a worker is always on time, his or her supervisor will notice.
·      At the end of the movie, the lights came on.    
·      However, he did not have enough money to buy the leather chair.                
Note:  A transitional word connects something that was said earlier with what is about to be said.  A few examples are furthermore, however, therefore, first, next, finally, later, and meanwhile.

√ Use two commas to set apart an interrupting word or word group inside a sentence. An interrupter is a word, a phrase, or a dependent clause that is added to give extra information. Such information could be left out without seriously changing the meaning of the main part of the sentence. Commas help make it obvious that it is extra information.
·      Your mother, furthermore, is sympathetic. [transitional word]
·      The pizza, if anyone cares, has anchovies on it. [dependent clause]
·      Her arm, not her leg, is in a cast. [phrase]
·      Our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, is well known. [proper noun]
·      She studied Chapter 5, which discusses computers. [dependent clause]
·      Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, had a serious reading problem. [dependent clause]                                                                     
If you were to remove the underlined words in the preceding examples, the main ideas would still be clear. The sentences would still give the reader an exact identification of the topic under discussion. The underlined words give useful information, but they are not necessary. This type of interrupter is called nonrestrictive, and it needs to be enclosed by commas.       

√ However, if a word or word group is needed to tell exactly which one, do not enclose it in commas.  Since the information is necessary to identify a person, place, or thing, you don’t want to minimize it or separate it. It is called restrictive.
·      She studied the chapter that discusses computers.
·      The person who invented the light bulb had a serious reading problem.
·      My sister who lives in Seattle calls me more often than my sister who lives just a few miles from me.

Leave the the underlined words out, and you have lost identification.  Don’t make them appear extraneous by enclosing them in commas.

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

Friday, August 08, 2014

Positioning the Lake

Jim Sofonia from Traverse City, Michigan, asked, “Can you explain why some lakes are Name Lake, and others are Lake Name? Examples include Lime Lake  and Lake Ann.”

Generally, larger lakes tend to have the word lake first: Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Ontario, etc. Smaller lakes tend to have it last: Little Traverse Lake, Green Lake, Duck Lake. But it’s not totally uniform: Lake Macatawa, Lake Bellaire, and Lake Cadillac are not part of the Great Lakes. Also, if the lake name came into English from the French, the word lake is likely to be in the first position.

The same question came up five years ago, and I think that a portion of that answer is worth repeating.
*          *          *          *          *

I decided to go to those who know: the U.S. Geological Survey. They forwarded my inquiry to the Geographic Names Office, and they were kind enough to reply.

“Actually, there is no rule in the geographic naming process that determines whether the generic term appears in position one or position two (before or after the specific part of the name). This is true for Lake as well; it can appear first as in Lake Superior or last as in Great Salt Lake. We can comment that it seems more often than not that the generic Lake seems to appear in position one for very large bodies of water, but as in the example above, this cannot be presumed, and we reiterate, there is no rule.”

I also asked whether the naming process might simply depend on the whim of the cartographer. This elicited an emphatic denial:

“Regarding whether it is ‘simply the whim of the map maker who names it,’ we can say with authority and certainty that it is definitely not. Firstly, map makers (and more specifically map editors) do not ever name anything—at least those making maps or charts for the Federal government and also those who do so for State and local jurisdictions—although occasionally local authorities might not be aware fully of the existing procedures. It is, in fact, the interdepartmental United States Board on Geographic Names (the first - 1890 - of now almost 50 such organizations worldwide) that is the sole authority for the Federal Government of the United States regarding approval of geographic names and their application on products of the Federal Government, both conventional and digital.
Further, the States and local jurisdictions generally follow the lead and policies of the U.S. Board (as do most commercial map makers). All 50 States plus the two Commonwealths and the three Territories have what are generically referenced as State Names Authorities, each of which works closely with the U.S. Board to standardize (not regulate) geographic names.

 An example of non-regulation is that there is no rule to determine whether the generic Lake appears in position one or position two. In the United States, the policy of paramount importance is that of local use and acceptance, so it is usually determined by perception and recommendation from local governments and quasi-official organizations as well as the various State Names Authorities. Other countries have other problems, and therefore may have requirements regarding standardizing geographic name usage.”

For Lou Yost
Manager of the Geonames Database

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

Sunday, August 03, 2014


Carol from Old Mission asked about the word speakeasy. A speakeasy was the name given to a club or establishment that sold liquor illegally during Prohibition (1920 – 1933).

The import of the word is harder to pin down. One theory is that patrons of a speakeasy were instructed to speak quietly when inside so that neighbors and the police wouldn’t know what was going on. I don’t buy in to this one because I’ve never been in a quiet room occupied by people who were drinking. In addition, neighbors always know when shenanigans are going on in an adjoining building. Strangers lining up one by one or two by two all through the night would certainly attract attention. It would soon become an open secret.

A second theory is that to enter a speakeasy, patrons needed to know a password, and that they needed to say the password in a guarded tone to the doorman (Kaiser Wilhelm sent me) to prevent passersby from hearing it.

A third theory is that patrons never talked about it openly except with very good friends because it was a secret that no one wanted to jeopardize. Easy in that case would signify covertly.

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

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