Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Under Pressure


May 29, 2013, Salem, Oregon--A man brought a pressure cooker that he claimed was a bomb into the Teacher Standards And Practices Commission office Wednesday and told employees he tried to blow up their sign because it was misspelled.

The visitor looked edgy. "I have a bomb," he said, easing a pressure cooker onto the receptionist's counter, "and as long as everyone does as I say--note the conjunction, please--no one gets hurt."

Mrs. Strabnitz reacted with what she secretly liked to think of as lightening-quick reflexes, snapping her facebook page off to reveal a spreadsheet. She swiveled toward the stranger and slid a clipboard across the counter. "If you could just sign in here. And where is your bomb, sir?"

"Here," he spit out, "it's right here." He tugged nervously at his cap and aimed an elbow at the pressure cooker.

Mrs. Strabnitz leaned in and peered over her glasses. "Looks like a pressure cooker," she said.

"A pressure cooker with wires sticking out of it!"

"No need to raise your voice to me, sir. I was going to say, it looks to me like a pressure cooker, with wires sticking out of it."

"Trouble?" The administrator poked his head in.

"Gentleman here says he has a bomb, and also he brought in this pressure cooker."

"What seems to be the problem, sir?"

"Your sign! It says 'Teacher Standards An Practices Commission.' What sort of standards are you people upholding if you can't even spell your sign correctly?"

"And he believes this pressure cooker is a bomb," Mrs. Strabnitz went on, with an exaggerated twirl of a spitcurl at her temple. "That's not a bomb. A bomb is a box with wires sticking out of it. Like the one that fellow brought in back in '90 when he said he was going to give us an object lesson. I told him he needed an appointment and he said he'd be back with his whom-boys."

Jason the intern strolled by with a tray of lattes and the conjugation of "to lay" and "to lie" tattooed up either arm. "'S'up with the bomb?" he said.

"That's a pressure cooker, dear. Your grandmother probably had one."

"No, that's totally a bomb."

"Ooo, scary," the administrator said, eyes wide, fingers fluttering over the pressure cooker. "Please. I used to be a substitute teacher in middle school, son. I'm not about to be put off by a spelling crank. No one could ever out-crank old man Strunkmeister. He was working his way through Wikipedia with a red pen and demanded a real office to continue his work, and Mrs. Strabnitz here--God love her--told him that his cubicle was his office, 'for all intensive purposes,' and he fell over dead. So what is it, now?"

"Apparently we're missing the 'D' on the 'and' in our sign out front."

The administrator squinted outside. "That's not a misspelling, really. I would call that more of a typo. Or an adhesive failure."

"Oh, actually," Jason put in, "I had to borrow a letter. For the lecture sign last night."

"Which lecture sign?"

"'RAM DASS, SMITH CENTER, 7PM.' I pretty much needed the 'D.' I was meaning to put it back."

"How does this thing work, anyway?" Mrs. Strabnitz jiggled a wire.

"Dude!" Jason took a step back.

"It's full of gunpowder. And nails, and bolts and things."

"Shrapnel," put in Dr. Forthwith of the History Department. "From Major General Henry Shrapnel, who invented the exploding cannonball in 1784. Whose own name is presumed to have been derived from the French 'Charbonnel.' Speaking of misspelling! How do you get your own name wrong?"

"Forthwith, you are as usual a font of information."

"Fount," the visitor spluttered.

"Either is considered correct," the administrator and Dr. Forthwith said in unison.

"The point is," the administrator continued, "a real bomb is round and black and has a fuse sticking out of the top. And has 'BOMB' printed on it. Remember that, Forthwith? Remember when that guy hauled one of those in here back in the sixties, all het up about teachers ending sentences with prepositions?"

"I never did know what he was going on about," Forthwith said. "But he comes from a long tradition of sticklers dating clear back to 1312, when Thomas the Tight-Assed stormed into the monastery with a catapult yelling 'it's a napron, not an apron!' No one knew what he was going on about either. Thing wasn't loaded, of course. He was peeved, but feeble. Anyway, I'll be happy to give our friend here a 'D,' if that's what he really wants."

"You know, the ones that come in with a weapon aren't the ones that scare me. It's the ones hiding in their basements with the 'comprise' bug up their butts."

Dr. Snort, walking by in the hallway with tweed and corduroy crackling, stopped short and arched one eyebrow into his toupee.

"There's not as many of them, at least," Dr. Forthwith said. "I'd say there are no more than twenty people in this country, tops, who know the difference between 'comprise' and 'compose.'"

"That's what makes them so dangerous. They're living in isolation and each one considers himself the last champion of a dying word. It gives rise to extremism. And now in the internet age there's a real danger they'll find each other and create a cell. You might say," the administrator chuckled, "they comprise a coterie of curmudgery."

"You might say that," Dr. Snort snarled from the hallway, "but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong, if there's any justice!"

"Woe is I! He's one of them! Get down, everybody!"

"Pish," Mrs. Strabnitz said. "All this shouting and going-on. Y'all are worse than those punks marching around town last summer marking up all the signs. The Apostrothieves? With their little paint pots."

"Their weapons of mass correction. Ah, yes. Street theater is a time-honored method of protest. I can't fault them for passion. Remember that man who sat outside demonstrating the difference between your hair being literally on fire and figuratively on fire?"

"I do kind of miss him. But the Ellipses Society? Oh my god. They just went on and on. And the Dangling Participles should have been arrested, in a decent society. I just wish they could bring back the good old typewriter. Or at least program the computer keyboard so you have to hold down 'control' and a period and an apostrophe to make an exclamation point. One at a time. You want to shout at somebody, you'll have to work at it. What we need in this country is the political will to outlaw those high-capacity exclamation point clips. Oh, sir, where're you going? Don't forget your bomb."

"I'm sorry I intruded," the visitor said, signing out. "Stupid thing doesn't work anyway. The instructions on the internet were misspelled."

"Aw, honey," Mrs. Strabnitz said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker. "Don't feel bad. You've got your shrapnel looking nice and tender."



55 comments:

  1. The bomber turned to gingerly clasp his pressure cooker in his arms. Turning to leave, Mrs. Strabnitz wished him “Good day’.’.’.”

    You are a riot, Murr.

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    1. I would like to point out, at this time, for the benefit of anyone reading the comments, that Murr, as an individual, does not, in and of herself, comprise a "riot" in any sense of the word.

      (And, yes, I used "comprise" correctly.)

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  2. Bravo! Now that was a tour de farce.

    I know the difference between "comprise" and "compose". Who are the other 19?

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  3. Supposably a school should know what its doing!

    Pearl

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    1. Even if I would of knew how to right proper, I could care less. So their.

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  4. Such a sad tale - yet another example of youthful idealism bludgeoned to death by academia...

    P.S. Note my defiant ellipsis. Them grammar barstids ain't gonna take me down.

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    1. I don't think you can call any ellipsis "defiant." I just don't. Maybe just this once.

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    2. True, it is kinda wishy-washy by its very nature. Maybe if I hit the key really hard and make a mean face while I do it?

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  5. But, exclamation marks are my favorite! I couldn't live without them!!!

    Moreover, my peeves center around words, not marks. "The criminal pleaded guilty." I guess that's after the victim bleeded all over the floor. I'm not a full-blown grammar Nazi, just a bit brown around the collar when it comes to the changes in a live and flexible language.

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    1. "...the changes in a live and flexible language." Har!

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    2. Today, in our newspaper, someone complained the paper had used "pleaded" and not "pled" whereupon the editor wrote that the AP Style Book insists the proper usage is "pleaded" and the paper will continue to use it.

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    3. I'm okay with it, but I don't want to use it around Roxie.

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  6. I musn't say TOO much, seeing as I love my exclamation marks, my ellipses and my all caps, but the thing that irks me most is misuse of words that sounds alike - and in the newspaper, at that. Pique-peek-peak is a favourite problem 'round here, and its/it's is so commonly misused I am in stroke territory.

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    1. Dang! I forgot to say how much I liked your post!

      !!!

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    2. Oh honey, you keep dropping by, so I take that on faith. Our local paper can't manage the homophones either. There was a lulu the other day that I can't recall right now, but nothing to top their story that had the earth spinning on its access.

      And never fear. I'm never moved to correct people unless they're arrogant and really need to come down a notch or two.

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    3. I think part of the problem with homophones is that nobody proofreads anymore; they just run the piece through spell-check, which can only tell whether a word is spelled correctly, not whether it's used correctly.

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    4. I know you're right, but I just wish I thought that IF someone read through it, they'd notice something.

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  7. Through all the hilarity, this made me laugh out loud,"'S'up with the bomb?".

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  8. If I were not lack toast intolerant milk would have sprayed out my nose. Definitely snortworthy!

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    1. Man, it seems like if milk does spray out your nose, you're almost by definition lack toast intolerant.

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  9. Did I ever tell you about the time the Keene Sentinel had a headline about the bumper crop of pumpkins? Big full page color picture of 'em. The headline? "something-something *dearth* of pumpkins". My Kevin observed that "dearth" must have many meanings, one of which is "plethora".

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    1. I know there are words that now mean the opposite of what they once meant, but I can't come up with any now. Unless it's "comprise."

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    2. decimate. used to mean, 10% gone. Now it's more like 90% gone.

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    3. You won't hear it from me. I never use it because I so rarely mean to say something was reduced by 10%. But if I do...

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  10. The website for my local newspaper (located in a large metropolitan area) is in desperate need of at least one person with knowledge of the English language. Please, one of you grammarians, apply for a position with that company.

    There are arcane rules of grammar that are understandably violated. But then there are the very simple, elementary school rules which make me sad when I see the errors. My grandmother, who taught third grade, must be spinning in her grave.

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    1. I know. One of the ones I'm beginning to embrace is the construction "everybody looked after their own stuff." I'm cool with that.

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  11. Apostrothieves.
    New word of the YEAR.

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  12. Someone in that tour de farce should have been named Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. That was so fun to read. Satisfying and no calories. Delicious.

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    1. Oh good. I was afraid it was too long. I had to plump it up so that the New Yorker could reject it on grounds other than being too short.

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  13. "The point is," the administrator continued, "a real bomb is round and black and has a fuse sticking out of the top. And has 'BOMB' printed on it. Remember that, Forthwith? Remember when that guy hauled one of those in here back in the sixties, all het up about teachers ending sentences with prepositions?"


    That whole paragraph made me howl with laughter!

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    1. Howling is just as good as snorting, and don't let anyone tell you diff'rent.

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    2. At that point I was expecting you to work in some reference to "a retard with a petard."

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    3. I don't know what a petard is, but I know you can be hoist on one.

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  14. Desert/dessert, ad/add, hear/here, affect/effect are common examples that can spoil the sense of a sentence. They should do the job right (or is that write?) the first time.

    Once again you've made another week(weak?)day a little better.

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    1. I just saw a poster on facebook today that tickled me. It said: Whenever you correct someone's grammar, just remember: everybody hates you."

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  15. Oh, I love this. Mistakes on the internet drive me nuts. And I am starting to get worried; its sometimes looks wrong to me, even when it's right.

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  16. Oh, I love this. Mistakes on the internet drive me nuts. And I am starting to get worried; its sometimes looks wrong to me, even when it's right.

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    1. You know you're a curmudgeon when the right stuff looks wrong too.

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. The Ellipses Society drove me batty last night, as I spent nearly an hour reading up on spacing (depends on this and that and such and so, but these changeable rules are very firm) and never did feel satisfied.

    So now I plan to put three spaces between all the dots and seven spaces after the last dot and before any ensuing word.

    Screw 'em.

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  19. The Ellipses Society drove me batty last night, as I spent nearly an hour reading up on spacing (depends on this and that and such and so, but these changeable rules are very firm) and never did feel satisfied.

    So now I plan to put three spaces between all the dots and seven spaces after the last dot and before any ensuing word.

    Screw 'em.

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    1. Seriously? There are WAYS of typing the dots? Do you know how long it took me to get used to not double-spacing after a period? Okay, only a week or so. But that's because I have a bad memory.

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  20. Australians seem to be losing the ability to use the word "brought", instead using the word "bought". TV, radio, newspapers, and even, eek, some of my friends, use "bought" freely regardless of meaning. Is this a "down under" problem or does it also happen in the US? Am I just turning into a grumpy old woman?

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    1. I think that one is all your'n. Here in Oregon, people say "heighth" instead of "height" and they don't do that anywhere else that I know of. None of this is to be taken to mean you're not turning into a grumpy old woman.

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  21. Murr - you need to read the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde - after reading this, I know you'd enjoy these books.

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