Editor’s note: Mrs. Language Person recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of her MLP columns in The Press. She had a bit of cake and said a prayer for Strunk and White. Readers often ask how this thing got started. Here’s how, from the Aug. 12, 2012, Press.
I wish I’d thought of it. Combining a love for words and contempt for pretention (that’s smug for showing off) with a sense of humor, Pulitzer-winning writer Dave Barry delighted readers for years with “Mr. Language Person.” In his Miami Herald newspaper column, Mr. Language Person provided the answers to common grammar, usage, and vocabulary questions “you need to verbally crush your opponents like seedless grapes under a hammer.”
Also known as the only column to receive the coveted Lifetime Bathroom Pass from the American Society of University Professors Who Are Never in Their Offices, his answers regularly included the words “bat spleen.” Take for example this opening to Barry’s June 8, 2003, column:
Today’s first language question comes from author Joyce Carol Oates, who writes to ask:
Q. At restaurants, I often order the soup du jour. My question is, what is “jour”?
A. It is a French word meaning “bat spleens.”
Or this one from Jan. 2, 2000:
Q. Like millions of Americans, I cannot grasp the extremely subtle difference between the words “your” and “you’re.”
A. Top grammar scientists are often confused by these two words, which are technically known as “bivalves,” or words that appear to be identical and have hinged shells. The best way to tell them apart is to remember that “you’re” is a contraction, which is a type of word used during childbirth, as in: “Hang on, Marlene, here comes you’re baby!” Whereas “your” is, grammatically, a prosthetic infarction, which means a word that is used to score a debating point in an Internet chat room, as in: “Your a looser, you morron!” [sic]
So here’s my question: Are readers of this column interested in a more serious version of Mr. Language Person, if I can manage it without copyright violations? I say serious because while I do have a sense of humor, I have no talent for it. The column would provide answers to common grammar and usage questions, without calling anyone a moron.
I have my own moronic moments; questions that are too difficult for this bear of limited brain will be passed around the newsroom before answering. Maybe the reporters can provide the humor — assuming they can get more creative than their daily belching contest.
Too nerdy? I can take it. Feedback, questions, and satirical insults welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who had nothing better to write about today. Er, that is, about witch to right.