Grammar Moses: Linguistic anomalies and oddities

  • A two-headed diamondback terrapin is weighed at the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Barnstable, Mass., where the 2-week old animal is being treated. The turtle is alive and kicking "with all six of its legs" after hatching recently.

    A two-headed diamondback terrapin is weighed at the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Barnstable, Mass., where the 2-week old animal is being treated. The turtle is alive and kicking "with all six of its legs" after hatching recently. Cape Cod Times via AP

 
 
Posted10/17/2021 5:30 AM

Today please enjoy a mailbag column from readers who have observed some pretty weird linguistic anomalies in recent weeks.

But first, I have a question for White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who was hot with a capital H after the Pale Hose were unceremoniously shown the door in Game 4 of the ALDS.

 

"The stuff there in the eighth inning leaves just a bitter taste in your mouth and in my gut," he told reporters after the game. And seconds later: "You don't want to come back because you got a contract. I would just leave if they don't want you back."

Who are you talking about, Tony? You, us, someone else?

What do you mean by "in your mouth and my gut?"

And "I would leave ... if they don't want you back."

Is this some sort of shared declaration of misery?

I don't follow La Russa's quotes enough to know if this is his modus operandi or simply something we can attribute to the heat of the moment.

Hey, Sox, there's always next year.

'Universal specialist'

"I'm not sure if this qualifies as an oxymoron, but it seemed pretty close," wrote Bill Murray. "While waiting at a teller's cage (do they still call them that?) at my bank today, I happened to notice her business card. The job title was 'Universal Branch Specialist.' I asked how one could be both 'universal' and a 'specialist.' Her answer was too lengthy for me to recall completely, but it ran along the lines of 'I'm trained to do everything at the branch and I'm a specialist at it.'

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"She took my money, and rather than squabble about the seeming dichotomy, I left before she got too close to the silent alarm."

Your saving grace, Bill, could be that you were masked during your tete-a-tete with the teller. What could land you in trouble, though, is that I've now outed you.

Bill is correct, of course.

The delightful Sara Zawila at the Daily Herald is an "HR generalist."

That title suggests she can tackle basically everything you can throw at her. And I like to think I have.

That she seems expert at everything doesn't make her a "specialist." It makes her an expert. A "specialist" by definition has a more narrowly defined scope -- whether it be payroll, hiring, navigating insurance claims, or whatever.

Admittedly, "specialist" sounds more important, and if I were a bank manager I might want my crew to feel more empowered, too.

'Lie in wait'

Terry, a real person who prefers to hide behind a cloak of invisibility, wrote to say he was watching a baseball game recently and heard something that seemed incongruous.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The camera panned to the on-deck hitter. The announcer then made the statement, 'There is player John Doe, as he lies in wait.'

"So being picky, I note that the batter shown in the on-deck circle was in full view of everyone and really isn't hiding at all."

First off, Terry, there has never been a player in Major League Baseball named John Doe, so perhaps you were mistaken about that. There was a Fred Doe, a right-handed pitcher who spent his cup of coffee in the bigs during one week in August of 1890. So I'm pretty sure it wasn't him, either.

But you are correct about the odd word choice. For the few MLB games I've attended, I've gotten essentially the worst seats in the house. Even still, I could still see the on-deck batter. There is even a little circle he is corralled in with the team's logo on it, so there is no mistaking his presence.

To "lie in wait" is to conceal oneself in order to surprise or attack someone or something.

It's a common tactic my friends and I would employ to scare the bejeebers out of my sister and her friends when I was in high school.

You can wait in public and you can lie in public, but you lie in wait by obscuring your presence.

Oh, wait! I suppose a pinch batter could be called in at the last moment. That certainly would be a surprise attack.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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