Grammar Moses: Read this column, if you’re so inclined

Is “vernacular” in your vernacular?

While it was part of my mom’s, “funicular” wasn’t. Those mountain-climbing trains — and really anything that climbed higher than a flight of stairs — is something she wanted no part in.

Both “vernacular” and “funicular” are peculiar words. Wouldn’t you agree?

Funicular cars are generally rectangular. Yet they are built on an angle, perpendicular to the horizon and not the tracks. The views from up top are spectacular, the ride up so steep it might have afflicted my mom with a cardiovascular event, however, nothing as serious as ventricular fibrillation.

These mountain trains weren’t essential parts of my vacations while I was growing up but rather extracurricular activities for those of us not saddled with a fear of heights (everyone but Mom and me.) But I’m braver now and jump on one whenever and wherever I get a chance. I’ll even pop for tickets for friends and relatives when I’m feeling avuncular.

I’ve found that crepuscular rides, in particular, are popular for offering sweet views of the sunset (best viewed with binocular telescopes, or “binoculars” for short.)

This, so far, has been different from my regular columns. I don’t often get so granular with vehicular descriptions. It was rather peculiar, I admit. But hopefully not too unpopular.

I imagine by now you’ve noted that I’ve used 18 words with a “-ular” suffix. So, why is “-ular” so popular? What does it mean?

It means “relating to” or “resembling.” Now that you know that, It’s a wonder there aren’t more words that employ it.

“Vernacular” comes from “verna” or “native.” It’s one’s everyday language. (Bonus: “Dialect” is different; it relates to a regional way of speaking.)

A “funicular” isn’t just something that’s fun, although it really is. In Latin, “funiculus” means “slender rope,” such as the slender cable that pulls a train car full of people up a mountain.

That’s one more reason my mother would probably have preferred not to even think about that word.

Pocket change

Sometimes a joke works, and sometimes it falls flat.

In last week’s cute, cuddly column on the names of baby animals I received nearly identical responses from a couple of you to the following: “Baby kangaroos are joeys. But so are baby koala bears, which you’d think would give birth to cubs. This might suggest a lack of imagination in Australia.”

Thanks to Kathy Tabak and Bev Bauer for pointing out that koalas are not a species of bear but rather marsupials, like their cousins the kangaroo. And that’s why they both give birth to joeys.

I was too focused on the “lack of imagination” punchline to concede I know this about koalas.

Interestingly, baby opossums are also joeys. They’re marsupials, too.

But opossums are not found in Australia. They have possums (not the colloquial American nickname) down there, and while they are decidedly cuter than the lumbering, beady-eyed North American variety, they too are marsupials. And, yes, they have joeys as well.

Going back two columns — the one on animal gender names — Bill McLean offered an addendum.

“I know of two high schools that use 'Lady Rams' for the girls sports teams' nickname,” he said. “Is that because the singular of 'Ewes' sounds just like 'Ewww'?”

I’m happy to tell you, Bill, that the information Grayslake Central submitted to the IHSA says all sports teams are Rams.

Decades ago, we decided to stop using “Lady” with team mascots, given how sexist that seemed at the time and how it is plain-as-day sexist today. (You know, the real Rams and the other version of the Rams).

That we ever did that makes me want to say “Eeeeew!”

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim’s book, “Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage,” at Write him at and put “Grammar Moses” in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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