Category Archives: your guess is as good as mine

“Was it that he was a satariosist, or had he never gotten over his love for his wife?”

This is a rhetorical question asked by a student in a brief biography of an author he included in his Anthology project.

How could such a word assemble itself?

Did he mean satyrist, someone suffering from satyriasis? If so, he was writing by ear, and his ear is stannic (not a typo for Satanic!). Why didn’t he resort to a dictionary, or possibly to the textbook for the course where he evidently heard it, and spell it right?

If that was what he was aiming at, he wasn’t concerned with meaning, so much as he was trying to use a “big word” to make his biographic paragraph sound more scholarly. And, as is the case with so many of such efforts, the result was comic.

He brought in that term as a possible explanation for a man’s having a number of affairs after the death of his wife. How quickly one moves from “normal” to “pathological” in a universe consisting only of absolutes.

Of course he doesn’t go on to explain how a series of affairs is an expression of undying love for a dead spouse. Is it a form of necrophilia-by-proxy? In my book that would be pathological too, so the sentence would be offering two alternative pathologies.

Ah well. The world is a strange place, and love can evidently make it stranger.

“This is why authors are more important than people that keep records…”

Dearest readers:

I’m so far behind today that, thanks to living on a globe, I can nearly pat my own back. But I really don’t want you to have to go Horror-less. So here’s a wonderful sentence for you to savor:

“This is why authors are more important than people that keep records of things because they give us a firsthand perspective of what was going on during their time without anything to influence their writing except themselves.”

Comments welcome!


“The Printing Press was much more active at this time….”

I don’t have much time for a comment this morning, so I thought I’d offer a Horror that is so rich, it’s almost beyond comment-ability.

This, again, from a BritLit exam. The student was discussing Paradise Lost:

“The Printing Press was much more active at this time, so Milton chose to write about something religious that would interest his readers. Therefore, since he didn’t have to rhyme, he simply chose not to. The people did not have to memorize what they heard anymore. The idea of spreading a story verbally wasn’t the case anymore. People read for themselves, and they read for pleasure.”

Printing presses can be active, stories don’t have to be verbal, best-sellers are about religion, rhyming is linked with memorization, poets rhyme only when they have to, choosing to write on religion absolves the poet of the rhyme requirement…

Dive in. Enjoy!

“There are no two ways around it.”

I remember my mother saying firmly to me, after I said “But…” as an opening to disagreeing with her about something, “There are no buts about it.”

And we all know the expression “There’s no way around it,” meaning we had to face something, or do something we wished we could avoid.

I can just about imagine my student confusing “around” and “about,” because they do share an area of meaning. I don’t know if she had a mother who said “There are no buts about it,” leaving the “about it” lurking there in her memory ready to leap into action if needed. I feel as if there’s another expression beginning in “There” and ending in “about it,” but I can’t quite recall one; anyway, that structure got into my student’s mind somehow, and then it cross-bred with “no way around it.”

And why do I think she might have meant “about” rather than “around”? Because I think she must have wanted something like the “buts” pattern. I wish I had saved the context of the sentence, because that might have cleared things up a little, but all I have is the sentence itself. “My brother said he had a different way to do the math problem, but with this kind of problem there are no two ways about it”—I think the sentence feels as if it’s trying to do something like that. If so, then “about” is what’s needed, not “around.”

But suppose she actually meant “around.” Suppose she was writing about having to face something, or do something, one might prefer to avoid. Then the more interesting question arises: Why two ways? Is there one way around it? If so, why would anyone want two? Can true evasion be achieved only with dual paths? Or are we wishing for geography that would permit two friends to split up, go around something, and then meet up again on the other side?

Well, it’s a strange sentence, with a kind of Wonderland flavor: a very definite tone with something nutty in the content. It feels like something I might like to say someday, just to see what happens.

“When people think of a family, they think of the man going out to make a living and condoning the money.”

I seem to be stuck in a gender-stereotype rut here; maybe it’s the current, amazing, political scene that is drawing me to evidences of ineptly expressed evidences of conceptual ineptitude. Be that as it may!

I’m not sure which “people” my student had in mind, but most of the people I know do NOT think of a family as a man going out to make a living. For most of us, even the most traditional, it’s quite a bit more than that.

And I can’t even imagine what that man might be doing as he is “condoning the money.”

“To condone” is to voluntarily forgive, overlook, pardon, or treat as unimportant. Generally, we might condone an error, a foible, a vice, a crime, a sin. I’m not sure how money can be forgiven or pardoned; and I’m pretty sure most people don’t consider its acquisition unimportant, not in this economy.

Obviously, for my student “the man” is in charge. Perhaps a second sentence revealed the role of “the woman” in the family, but if it did I didn’t record it, meaning that if it existed I found it neither funny nor amazing—which, considering THIS sentence, I think is unlikely, so probably he felt that the male role was the only one that needed to be established for his argument.

I can picture various ways in which the man might make a living, but I’m damned if I can picture him “condoning the money.” Would he do this in public or in private? Would it involve some sort of ritual of absolution, or could it be accomplished in private and informally? And what would happen to the money after it was condoned?

I suppose we could theorize that because of the way the man made the living the money might be considered “ill-gotten gains,” and so he must forgive it somehow before he can legitimately spend it, but I think that idea is too far-fetched to explain my writer.

Well, regardless of your sexual persuasion I hope you make plenty of money to condone. And if you do, I wish you’d tell me how in blazes you condone it! Suggestions as to what this student actually meant are welcome.

“Unfortunately, there are those out there who suffer from comprehension.”

Luckily, there are many out there who don’t! —including me, at least as far as this sentence is concerned.

Is my student saying that it’s unfortunate for the world (or some segment of it) that some suffer from comprehension, or that it’s unfortunate for the sufferers? I’d go for the latter. Certainly, in this modern world of ours that we live in today (phrasing I like to call Freshman-speak), comprehension is far from universal, and those who have it do a lot of suffering as they contemplate 1) said world and 2) the non-comprehenders. And watching what passes for political discourse these last couple of years and especially these last couple of months, I’d say it’s unfortunate for politicians that some people do comprehend what’s up with them.

As happens too often for comfort when it comes to the most dazzling of Horrors, I neglected to note the context, and so I can’t even begin to imagine what this student might have been trying to say. I invite readers to hypothesize.