Sunday, September 23, 2018


We humans are such strange creatures. For example, I read this headline today:

Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' arrested for allegedly murdering husband

and immediately I thought, 'That's impossible'.

Now before you start quibbling with me or scratching your head in confusion, let me explain what I mean.

It is impossible to allegedly murder someone. Either you murder someone or you don't murder someone, but you cannot allegedly murder someone. Someone can allege that you have murdered someone, true, but I repeat: You cannot allegedly murder someone.

It is certainly possible, as I just said, to allege that someone has murdered someone, but under our system it must wait for a jury of one's peers to decide, based on evidence presented in a court of law, the guilt or innocence of such a person. Keep in mind that in our society one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it is only after having been proven guilty that it might be said that what was alleged -- that someone had murdered someone -- was, in fact, true.

Therefore, in an attempt to head off lawsuits for unequivocally declaring that a person has murdered someone (although that may well be the case) before the judicial process has run its course, our print journalists and radio/TV newsbroadcasters daily make such ridiculous statements as 'Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' arrested for allegedly murdering husband'.

How might we say that better? Certainly not by saying

Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' allegedly arrested for murdering husband

because an arrest definitely took place. The arrest is not alleged. The murder is.

Perhaps this is better:

Author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' arrested for murdering husband, allegedly

Part of the problem is that editors and publishers want headlines to be short, so words are omitted. It would be much nearer the truth to write a complete sentence:

Because the author of the book 'How to Murder Your Husband' is alleged to have murdered her husband, she has been arrested.

but if headlines were that accurate there would be no need for an article to follow it except to provide details such as the woman's name and address and the date the event occurred. Alleged event. The method she used might prove interesting as well, such as by clobbering him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb or plunging him through with shish-ka-bob skewers or putting belladonna in his tapioca.

Having talked that subject to death (literally), let us now turn our attention to...

Panel One

In the following passage from Through the Looking Glass by Mr. Charles L. Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll, Alice, who has unexpectedly found herself in Wonderland, is speaking with Humpty Dumpty, who is sitting on a wall. You may discover that the passage explains some thimgs you never knew before:

'You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,' said Alice. 'Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky"?'

'Let's hear it,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'I can explain all the poems that ever were invented — and a good many that haven't been invented just yet.'

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

''Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.'

'That's enough to begin with,' Humpty Dumpty interrupted: 'there are plenty of hard words there. "Brillig" means four o'clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.'

'That'll do very well,' said Alice: 'and "slithy"?'

'Well, "slithy" means "lithe and slimy". "Lithe" is the same as "active". You see it's like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.'

'I see it now,' Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are "toves"?'

'Well, "toves" are something like badgers — they're something like lizards — and they're something like corkscrews.'

'They must be very curious-looking creatures.'

'They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty; 'also they make their nests under sun-dials — also they live on cheese.'

'And what's to "gyre" and to "gimble"?'

'To "gyre" is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To "gimble" is to make holes like a gimlet.'

'And "the wabe" is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?' said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

'Of course it is. It's called "wabe" you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it —'

'And a long way beyond it on each side,' Alice added.

'Exactly so. Well then, "mimsy" is "flimsy and miserable" (there's another portmanteau for you). And a "borogove" is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round — something like a live mop.'

'And then "mome raths"?' said Alice. 'I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble.'

'Well, a "rath" is a sort of green pig: but "mome" I'm not certain about. I think it's short for "from home" — meaning that they'd lost their way, you know.'

'And what does "outgrabe" mean?'

'Well, "outgribing" is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you'll hear it done, maybe — down in the wood yonder — and, when you've once heard it, you'll be quite content. Who's been repeating all that hard stuff to you?'

'I read it in a book,' said Alice.

(end of passage)

Here is Jabberwocky in its entirety.

I do wish Humpty Dumpty (that is, Lewis Carroll, that is, Charles L. Dodgson) had explained the rest of the poem. I can guess at whiffling and burbled and galumphing, but I don't have a clue about manxsome, frumious, or frabjous.

Moving right along, here’s...

Panel Two

This passage is from Chapter 6:

“There’s glory for you!” [said Humpty Dumpty].

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t -- till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that’s all.”

(End of quotation)

Humpty Dumpty has a point. Take the word 'john’. It can be a man's name, a toilet, or a prostitute’s paying customer.

Panel Three

Here from Chapter 7 is part of a conversation between Alice and the March Hare at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party:

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least -– at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, `that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

(end of passage)

So what do I want you to take away from this post?

Saying what you mean and meaning what you say ought to be the goals of everyone, from Alice in Wonderland to the alleged writer of the alleged headline about the alleged woman author of the alleged book ‘How To Murder Your Husband’ who allegedly murdered her alleged husband.


  1. I am also pernickity about word usage. Uselessly so, since my complaints are very rarely heard by the perpetrators of the crime.
    I grew up hearing Jabberwocky often. Frabjous? A portmanteau of fabulous and joyous.

    1. Sue, I try to keep my thoughts to myself but am usually unsuccessful. I care about language, and so many do not.

  2. I'm picturing you and the lovely Mrs. doing the Futter Wacken in your living room after you've taken turns practicing the reading-aloud memorization of the Jabberwocky poem....Step lively now!

    1. Pam, I learn so much from my readers! Having no idea what a Futter Wacken is, and initially misreading it as a Fuller Wacken, and wondering whether there might also be a Lesser Wacken, I googled said term and learned two things I didn't know before; namely, that Wacken is a municipality in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and that it is famous for annually staging the world's biggest open air heavy-metal festival, "Wacken Open Air", which is now in its fourteenth year. Unless you meant something else entirely. I'll get back to you on Futter.


      It is, of course, the dance that Johnny Depp does at the end of Alice in Wonderland...after the Jabberwocky has been slain. Get to practicing more excuses!

    3. H.H’steader, wow, after watching the link I don’t think I have enough years left to get enough practice in.

  3. I take away from this post a question. (It may not ever be answered other than by supposition, because it may not be possible the answer will eve be known.) Did Charles L. Dodgson make up the poem THEN the 'meanings' or were the two more-or-less simultaneous? What I mean is, are we seeing his mind at work? For example in this logical portmanteau-kind of way?
    I once asked a famous author why he named one of his characters with a certain whimsical made-up (yet brilliantly clever) name, and he suggested that it just seemed the 'obvious' name. And then made me admit it was too.

    1. you New Zealnders/Kiwis obviously have way too much time on your hands. Unless someone -- not me -- can conjure up Charles L. Dodgson in a seance, we will never know the answer to your question, which is a good one, by the way.

    2. Time? Nay Sir, it took nobbut a nano-second for me to come up with this question! Did you not know I was a Questioner? Ain't got no answers in me brane, but have plenty of questions!

  4. Good job! I am constantly correcting grammar under my breath.

    1. Emma, I think your comment was inspired by my comment to Elephant's Child, but maybe not. We grammar nerds, even the silent ones, are just behind used-car salesmen and politicians in the esteem of the American public.

  5. On the bright side, the alleged murderer was a fellow Oregonian, so at least there's that. Of course, YOU didn't see fit to give my state proper credit (or, indeed, ANY credit) for producing a methodical--though unwise--murderer who would think to plan her crime with book length.

  6. Snowbrush, 'On the bright side'????

    If you really want CREDIT for your state for producing a methodical--though unwisie--murderer who would think to plan her crime with book length, you need to switch to decaffeinated coffee. Now.

    I do hope you are speaking tongue-in-cheek.

    1. "I do hope you are speaking tongue-in-cheek."

      Louisiana boasts of its mosquitoes, Arkansas of its ticks, California of its serial rapists, and Oregon of its literary murderers. Every state needs something to be proud of it, and woe be to the state that can't come up with anything. I therefore ask you, what does your state have to boast of? Don't know? Well, I'll tell you. It's "Sherman's march to the sea," and they had to bring in an outside help to do that.

    2. Snowbrush, and in Mississippi I suppose it’s a tie between James Meredith and Mary Ann Mobley.

    3. Does this mean that you disapprove of James Meredith?

    4. Snowbrush, of course not, or of Mary Ann Mobley either. My answer was supposed to indicate things Missippians WOULD boast of. I misunderstood your intent. All the things for the other states, including mine, were things they definitely would NOT boast of. Chalk it up to my advancing senility and my less than careful reading. Let me change my answer about Mississippi posthaste to the brutal murders of the three civil rights activists, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, in Philadelphia, Neshoba County, in 1964.

    5. "Let me change my answer about Mississippi posthaste to the brutal murders of the three civil rights activists, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, in Philadelphia, Neshoba County, in 1964."

      Other heroes died, and many of them had little if any support during their lives and were forgotten after their murders. For instance, there was Lamar Smith, a black civil rights worker who fought the good fight alone. He was murdered on the court house lawn of my town in 1955. Scores of people were present, but no one would give evidence.

      While I'm speaking of extralegal killings, I'll mention the Bearden brothers who were lynched in my town in 1928 (one being shot to death, the other dragged behind a car and his corpse hung from a tree limb), an event that my father only told me of when I was in my thirties (the funny thing about lynchings is that they weren't talked about, suggesting that people knew they were wrong). Years later, I looked them up and did a post about them:

    6. Snowbrush, those were very bad times in many states for many people during those turbulent years. It was not the "golden age" of Ward and June Cleaver (of "Leave It To Beaver") when housewives mopped floors while wearing high heels and pearl necklaces (and other things too, of course) as portrayed in black-and-white television commercials. Not at all.

      I remember our post about the Bearden brothers very well.

  7. I think you made a fine job of a shoddy headline sir, and always enjoy a spot of manxsome, frumious, or frabjous chat too.

    I can't answer comments on my blog now, it just won't publish them, only the original comments by readers, which is very annoying to say the least. I was ansering your last comment regarding my date of birth and it came to me that yes, I share the same day as one of your boys! Man now to be fair. Are you still 77?

  8. Star-T (a shortened form of my own invention), I hope you get your comments problem solved ion. And I am “still” 77, and will remain 77 until just after St. Patrick’s Day and just before the next vernal equinox. Thank you for asking.