Grammar Moses: I have become comfortably number
Steadfast reader Kathy Canick writes that she and Barb Chrisman, whose name also rings a bell, were playing their monthly word games to keep their brains a-hummnin.'
"A question arose about the word 'numb,'" Kathy wrote. "If your finger was numb but became more numb, would it be 'number'? It would be pronounced 'number' not 'number.' Is there nothing to compare and your finger is just numb? More numb?
"I faithfully read your column and know you have the answer to this mind-numbing question."
Touche, Kathy. It's nice to see others delay the punchline.
I have an answer to that, and I'm happy to report you get the bonus plan: an exploration of progressive rock music.
To be more numb is to be "number" (pronounced with a silent "b.")
"Number" and "number" are homographs -- that is, words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently.
Here is a good example: bass (the fish) and bass (the stringed instrument.)
Now, for the your musical bonus you didn't ask for.
The bass players from the glory years of two of my favorite progressive rock bands are Chris Squire from Yes and Roger Waters from Pink Floyd.
(I'm angry right now with Roger for his stance on Russia's war against Ukraine, but that's another story.)
Squire wrote or co-wrote many of Yes's best songs. One of my favorite deep cuts from the "Roundabout" album is called "The Fish," and it features Squire's incredible playing. In 1975, Squire released a solo album titled "Fish Out of Water."
I don't know whether he was writing specifically about the largemouth bass common to the U.S. are Micropterus salmoides (the largemouth bass) or some other family of fish, but I'll never know. He died seven years ago. I like to think he was a homophone freak, too.
Roger Waters wrote almost all of "The Wall" for Pink Floyd.
One of Floyd's best-loved songs from that album or any other is "Comfortably Numb."
Sadly, it was the last song Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason would perform all together.
And that left me altogether uncomfortably numb.
Augie Tonne wrote to me regarding a sports story in another newspaper that included "it's hard to pinpoint a date for the next time the Cubs will sincerely compete for a championship."
"While I'm hoping the Cubs will always be sincere," Augie noted, "my real hope is that they will 'seriously compete for a championship.' Sincerely or not ..."
Let's pick this one apart, Augie. "Sincerely" suggests that the players have their hearts in it; that they're out to win it all. That's about attitude.
Whether they can "seriously" compete, to my way of thinking, is more about outside forces. Sure, there is no chance they'll win if they just phone it in, but if the Dodgers or the Braves catch fire, the talent-challenged Cubs might not be serious contenders no matter how hard they try.
So I wouldn't judge that sports writer too harshly. As my wife is wont to say when the game is tied, "This could go either way."
"I've noticed a recent trend in using the adjective 'in advance of,'" writes Ann Farace. "Is this a new trend? On the front page of the Daily Herald on Sept. 11, there was a picture of twin beams of light commemorating the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center. The caption said the twin beams were being tested 'in advance of the 21st annual memorial' of the attacks. I would have used 'in preparation for' or in other instances 'prior to.'
To each his own, Ann. I don't have empirical evidence to indicate "in advance of" is gaining steam, but I do know that it is perfectly acceptable.
• 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 grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.