It’s not news, but our language is weird. Here’s an illustrative poem by Willard Espy. “Now if ‘mouse’ in the plural should be, and is, ‘mice,/ Then ‘house’ in the plural, of course, should be ‘hice,’/ And ‘grouse’ should be ‘grice’ and ‘spouse’ should be spice’/ And by the same token should ‘blouse’ become ‘blice.’” … “Then if one thing is ‘that,’ while some more is called ‘those,’/ Then more than one ‘hat,’ I assume, would be ‘hose,’/ And ‘gnat’ would be ‘gnose’ and ‘pat’ would be ‘pose’/ And likewise the plural of ‘rat’ would be ‘rose.’”
Greg Hill’s Weekly Column
A former teacher recently passed along some grammatical limericks by Christopher Morley, including “Lie and lay offer slips to the pen/ That have bothered most excellent men:/ You can say that you lay/ In bed – yesterday;/ If you do it today, you’re a hen!” Huh? How to decipher this? Others were understandable, like “A certain young man never knew/ Just when to say whom and when who;/ “the question of choosing,”/ He said, “is confusing;/ I wonder if which wouldn’t do?”
Finding myself in Austin, Texas last Monday, I tried to visit the famed Harry Ransom Center (AKA the HRC) at the University of Texas, but it was closed. Advertising itself as “an archive, library, and museum,” the HRC’s collections are truly astounding. Besides possessing one of 21 existing Gutenberg Bibles, three of Shakespeare’s First Folios, manuscripts and rare editions of the works of Lewis Carroll, Doris Lessing, James Joyce, T. E. Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence, T.H. White, Carson McCullers, Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Graham Greene, not to mention Edgar Allen Poe’s writing desk. Besides Woodward’s and Bernstein’s Watergate notes, Jack Kerouac’s journal for “On the Road,” and an enormous comic book collection, there are 36 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, and 100,000 works of art.
My father was a veteran of the Battle of Guadalcanal, and, trying to understand him better, I read “From Here to Eternity” while in middle school. Naturally, I skipped the mushy romantic section and went for the more compelling battle scenes. Recently I learned that an uncensored version of the classics WWII novel exists and itch to read it. James Jones’ original publisher, Scribner’s, cut some profanity and a homosexual encounter from the manuscript “for propriety’s sake.” After a protracted struggle, Jones’ heirs succeeded in getting the unexpurgated version published in an electronic edition that’s available for Nooks and Kindles. Dad, a member of the 1st Marine Paratrooper Battalion, swore like a sailor and had already told me how the commander of the Marine Raiders enjoyed cross-dressing, so I suspect my 13-year-old mind wouldn’t have been ravaged by the uncensored book.
What you learn in libraries often isn’t the knowledge you set out for. That’s how I encountered “The Law of Urination: All Mammals Empty Their Bladders Over the Same Duration,” a scholary report published by Cornell University Library, AKA www.library.cornell.edu. Cornell professors Yang, Pham, Choo, and Hu went to the Atlanta Zoo, and, using “high-speed fluid dynamics videos and flow-rate measures,” found that whether your talking elephants or dormice, “animals empty their bladders over nearly constant duration of twenty-one seconds … despite a difference in bladder volume from 100 millileters to 100 liters.