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Words Nov. 25

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Do as they mean, not as they say: Harper’s magazine published what it said was an excerpt from “a guide intended to help foreigners understand the idiosyncrasies of British English.” Some examples: What they say: I’m sure it’s my fault. What is understood: It is his fault. What they mean: It is your fault. What they say: I hear what you say. What is understood: He accepts my point of view. What they mean: I disagree and do not want to discuss it any further. What they say: By the way/incidentally … What is understood: This is not very important. What they mean: The primary purpose of our discussion is … What they say: Quite good. What is understood: Quite good. What they mean: A bit disappointing. Gender confusion: “The senior tailback rushed 33 times for 206 yards and a touchdown and made several big defensive plays. ‘He’s the bell cow, he’s the stud,’ Coach Bo Dacious said.” A bell cow is female, of course, “the lead cow of a herd, having a bell attached to a collar around its neck so that the herd can be located easily.” A stud is a stallion or other male animal that is kept for breeding. In nature, bell cows and studs are distinctly different creatures, but sports jargon allows a star player to be both. A star player who is male, that is. I doubt you’d ever see the star of a women’s basketball team, for example, described as a stud. And probably not as a bell cow, either. That comparison too would be deemed offensive, I imagine. More gridiron news: “North-By-Northwest University’s Department of Athletics moved one huge step closer to achieving its goal of a new Performance Enhancement Complex Thursday when a gift of $250,000 was received from longtime N-B-NU supporter Dan D. Lyon.” Former O-lineman Max Brantley says, “In my day, a performance enhancement complex was known as the weight room.”

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