Grammar Moses: Mourning the loss of a linguist

 
 
Updated 12/18/2021 4:43 PM

I'm sad to report the passing of an important contributor to this column: a man with whom I corresponded weekly, who challenged me both as a grammar columnist and newspaper editor and who provided tremendous insights with his trademark humor.

Stan Zegel inspired nine Grammar Moses columns over the years, and I included three of them in my book. The last column in the book, in fact, was Stan's idea, and it ended up being one of my Top 5 for Stan's brilliance and our personal yin and yang with the alphabet.

 

Stan, a former newspaper editor himself and, I believe, a competitor when I was covering Winfield as a reporter in 1990 or so, had a most active mind. He would write me so often that I couldn't keep up with proper responses (a common problem for me as my pen pal base has grown).

I'll miss Stan, and I know his wife, Lois, has a tough road ahead. I wish her well.

Stan died just a few days ago -- 10 days after his last missive to me. It read:

"Dear Grammar,

I am in the ICU at CDH for a few days due to bacterial pneumonia. I now have time to read your fine book and confirm that laughter is the best medicine for me."

I'm sorry to have let Stan down. My book apparently does not have restorative powers as he hypothesized. But Lois told me that they started reading it together in the hospital in his final days. I hope there were some smiles along the way.

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Rather than answer some of the unanswered questions Stan posed to me, I'll share with you that column I enjoyed so much. It's from Nov. 15, 2020.

Rest in peace, Stan.

Of Abees and Whyzees

While wearing one of my other columnist hats recently, I wrote about our policy for handling election mug shots in the newspaper.

It wasn't the idea that we run them with an eye toward fairness -- ensuring the candidates for a given race have similar, suitable expressions or that we always run them the same size -- that got reader Stan Zegel's goat.

Zegel expressed what I now surmise (from our follow-up conversation) was feigned outrage over the ORDER in which we run them.

Remember the name of the guy who lodged the complaint, folks.

"The Daily Herald's institutional alphabetist bias is revealed in an admission in today's issue confessing that the newspaper sequences opposing candidates in the same story by the spelling of their surnames.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Alphabetism invidiously and permanently discriminates against persons whose last names start with a letter in the latter part of the Latin alphabet. The A-B-Cs (the "Abees") of this world always come first, us X-Y-Zs (the "Whyzees") people always come last. We are treated as 26th-class citizens."

Stan even took a swipe at me for my having explained our policy because I'm one of the Abees.

"Do you know what it is like growing up what a 'Z' surname?" he asked. "Sempre Finalis! We are an oppressed minority."

Stan continued with a list of protestations that would have left Martin Luther shaking his head. He finished his faux rant with: "We Whyzees are ignored and skipped over, in favor of those Abees who get first crack at everything, while those at the tail end of the alphabet have to settle for any leftovers."

Listen up, Stan. None of us is ever satisfied with his station in life. Nobody I know, anyway.

Even though I've always been an Abee, during high school I was envious of Benjamin Ahrens, because he always came before me. Always.

I am more attuned to the inequities of poor alphabetic placement than you might think. I married a Zucker girl, you see.

Yes, Stan, she would have been the girl sitting behind you in class.

And not only was she a Zucker, but she also was the most disadvantaged Zucker, on the 26-letter scale, of all nine members of her family: Bill, Gini, Kathy, Larry, Leo, Louise, Marty, Mike and ... Patt.

I asked Patt whether she was bothered by our policy. "No. What would you replace it with?" she replied.

Exactly. We can't very well put Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right. What about the Independents, the Libertarians, the Greens, the Socialists?

Reordering mugs to reflect ballot order would require too much rework.

How would we handle it in the primaries -- Bernie on the far left, Hillary somewhere in the middle?

As my wife and I discussed this, she revealed something that I never suspected in our 30 years together.

"I have to tell you, the BA- thing was the most appealing thing about you," she said.

I'll just assume that was tongue in cheek as well.

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at

grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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