Join us now for another rendition of "Ask Mister Language Person," the only grammar column mentioned by name in the Bible, as well as the official grammar column of the American Association of English Teachers in the Staff Lounge Counting the Days Until Retirement.
We begin today with a disturbing escalation in the trend of coffee retailers giving stupid names to cup sizes. As you know, this trend began several years ago when Starbucks (motto: "There's one opening right now in your basement") decided to call its cup sizes "Tall" (meaning "not tall," or "small"), "Grande" (meaning "medium") and "Venti" (meaning, for all we know, "weasel snot"). Unfortunately, we consumers, like moron sheep, started actually USING these names. Why? If Starbucks decided to call its toilets "AquaSwooshies," would we go along with THAT? Yes! Baaa!
But it's getting worse. Recently, at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Death March, Mister Language Person noticed that a Starbuck's competitor, Seattle's Best Coffee (which also uses "Tall" for small and "Grande" for medium), is calling ITS large cup size — get ready — "Grande Supremo." Yes. And as Mister Language Person watched in horror, many customers — seemingly intelligent, briefcase-toting adults — actually used this term, as in, "I'll take a Grande Supremo."
Listen, people: You should never, ever have to utter the words "Grande Supremo" unless you are addressing a tribal warlord who is holding you captive and threatening to burn you at the stake. JUST SAY YOU WANT A LARGE COFFEE, PEOPLE. Because if we let the coffee people get away with this, they're not going to stop, and some day, just to get a lousy cup of coffee, you'll hear yourself saying, "I'll have a Mega Grandissimaximo Giganto de Humongo-Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong decaf." And then you will ask for the key to the AquaSwooshie. And when THAT happens, people, the terrorists will have won.
OK! Let's move on to our first language question, submitted by a regular person just like you, except that you actually exist.
Q. What is the correct usage of the semicolon?
A. The semicolon is used to create a needed pause in a sentence. WRONG: "OK Bob let's move this piano downstairs no wait WAIT NOOOO OWWWW."
RIGHT: "OK Bob let's move this piano downstairs no wait QUICK STICK A SEMICOLON IN THERE; good catch Bob man that was close."
Q. What is the difference between "advice" and "advise?"
Grammatorically, "advice" is a platonic depredation used in exculpatory phrases, as in: "My lawyer advices me that I don't know nothing about no grenade launcher." Whereas "advise" is used in all other cases, such as "My advise is, stop taunting them constrictors."
Q. How stupid is the GMC slogan, "We are professional grade?"
A. Pretty stupid.
Q. What's the deal with people who tell the same stories over and over and you can't stop them? Like they'll go, "One time, I was at this salad bar . . . " And you interrupt and say, "There was a scorpion in the broccoli. You told me already." And they go, "Right. So I was getting some broccoli . . . " And they keep right on going! It makes me CRAZY.
A. This is why Mister Language Person carries pepper spray.
Q. Do you have any suggestions for "small talk" to make to the bereaved at a funeral?
A. You can't go wrong with: "What's that smell?"
Q. Is it time to coast to the end of the column with examples of effective language usage sent in by alert readers?
Sandy Frey sent in an Easton (Md.) Star Democrat story about residents of Oxford, Md., complaining about loud rock music, with one resident quoted as saying: "They had no right to go boom, boom, boom in my ear in that honky-tonk fashion."
Melba Glock sent in a story from the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star headlined "Volunteers needed to help torture survivors."
Katrina Wing Clark sent in a correction published by the Rutland (Vt.) Herald stating: "A story in Friday's Herald incorrectly quoted a biologist as saying salmon were among Vermont's roadkill. The quote should have been 'salamanders.' "
Art and Bill Hall sent in an Indianapolis Star item headlined "How to handle the cold weather." It begins: "Stay warm."
Frank Florio sent an obituary-page announcement from the Watertown (N.Y.) Times that states: "To Everyone and Anyone who was in any way involved in my husband's passing, a Heart Felt Thank You."
Gerald Harvey sent a story from the Sarasota (Fl.) Herald-Tribune headlined "Midwest storm blamed for Wisconsin."
Susan Anderson sent an item from the Fort Myers (Fl.) News-Press headlined "Homeless man improves after car runs into him."
GOT A QUESTION FOR MISTER LANGUAGE PERSON? Just boom it in our ear in a honky-tonk fashion.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132.