Mater Melvin begats a lengthy grammar lesson

29 11 2013

I originally posted this photo and brief blog entry on July 28, 2008. For this re-post, I’m including the ensuing grammar lesson that resulted from this harmless little photo of some homegrown tomatoes. 

I just picked these little jewels from the garden this afternoon. As I was carrying them inside, I thought…hmmm…two yellow ones…they look like big orbs…with eyes! And I have just enough new cherry tomatoes to form…a smile….oh, and what looks great with bright golden yellow and orange-red? Cornflower-french blue! Oh, and what about rosemary eyebrows?

While I realize the concept of playing with your food (and photographing it) isn’t a new concept, I felt (creatively) compelled to do it anyway. So…voila! I present to you—‘Mater Melvin. How can this colorful little concoction not make you smile? Step away from your desk and go grow something!


And the comments started coming in…

My friend Sue responded as I would hope a viewer would: “Mater Melvin looks good enough to eat!”

She was followed by my father (aka “The King of Texas”): MATER: — noun — an informal use of the Latin word for mother, sometimes used by British schoolboys or used facetiously. Also refers to a female parent, a mother—a woman who has given birth to a child (also used as a term of address to your mother). I submit this only to point out that Melvin may feel compromised by the application of the term “mater.” Perhaps the graphic might better be termed “‘mater Melva.” I fully realize that in this case, as in so many others, I am “neet peeking” but I can’t resist it—it’s in my nature!

And here is my response: And now, my dearest friends, you can finally understand why I am so compelled to correct (some of) you when you misuse “lie” vs. “lay.” I explain that a “dove” is a bird and not something you do off a diving board. I correct you when you use “I” vs. “me” at the end of a sentence. I lecture that “irregardless” is crude and unacceptable in most circles (i.e. mine). The word is “regardless.” I insist that you put the periods and commas inside the quotation marks. I preach when to use “further” vs. “farther.” I cringe when you use “its” in the possessive form when you mean to use it as a contraction (or vice versa). You can just imagine how I must feel when someone misuses “lose” vs. “loose” when they are writing. I can’t help it. I am my father’s daughter. The apple never fell from the tree.

Repeating the words of my lifelong Grammar Guru: I can’t resist it—it’s in my nature! (You can direct your complaints to Mr. Dyer now.)

Oh, and for the record, Grammar Guru says one should always avoid using exclamation points. He says using one in a sentence is like laughing at your own joke. (I ask him why God made exclamation points in the first place if he didn’t want us to use them. He has no answer for that one.) I break with tradition here and must admit that I have been known to use one when I’m truly excited (on paper). However, I do think using two is a tad much (I’m sure you’ll agree). And three? Egads!!!

Read my Dad’s comment about rampant misuse of quotation marks:

The King of Texas then responds with: Thanks a lot, mi hija—you may have exposed me to a flood of rebuttals on the conjugation of the verb “to dive.” In anticipation of that flood and at the risk of overloading your comments section, I offer the following ramble:

The old school conjugation of “to dive” (a la McGuffey’s Reader), present, past and future—is dive, dived and dived (I dive today, I dived yesterday, and by this time tomorrow I will have dived again). Virtually every source, including the college edition of The American Heritage Dictionary, shows “dove” and “dived” as acceptable past tenses of the verb “to dive.” Many people choose “dove” over “dived,” one syllable rather than two, notably in cold northern regions (we in more tolerable climates speak a bit slower and prefer two syllables).

We have, over time, perhaps corrupted the past tense of the verb “to dive” because of its similarity to other verbs such as drive (drive, drove, driven) and strive (strive, strove, striven). However, its inclusion in the dictionary doesn’t make it right—one also finds a four-letter synonym (verb, noun, etc.) for excrement in the dictionary, but the term is not used by literate persons—at least not in polite conversation (not even in the colder regions). It’s available to all, of course, but its indiscriminate use immediately labels the speaker.

And now, a short history of the transition from “dived” to “dove” (from

Either dove or dived is acceptable as the past tense of dive. Usage preferences show regional distribution, although both forms are heard throughout the United States. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, in the North, dove is more prevalent; in the South Midland, dived. Dived is actually the earlier form, and the emergence of dove may appear ANOMALOUS (please note the definition below) in light of the general tendencies of change in English verb forms.

Definition added (from Merriam-Webster):

1: inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected : irregular, unusual.
2: of uncertain nature or classification b: marked by incongruity or contradiction.

The use of “dove” as a past tense of dive, according to Merriam-Webser, is therefore inconsistent, deviating, unusual, abnormal, unexpected, irregular, uncertain, incongruous and contradictory. Given all those negatives, I can’t imagine why anyone would use, or even think of using “dove” in that manner.

Let’s face it—it’s a bird!

Back to the history lesson from;

Old English had two classes of verbs: strong verbs, whose past tense was indicated by a change in their vowel (a process that survives in such present-day English verbs as drive/drove or fling/flung); and weak verbs, whose past was formed with a suffix related to -ed in Modern English (as in present-day English live/lived and move/moved). Since the Old English period, many verbs have changed from the strong pattern to the weak one; for example, the past tense of step, formerly stop, became stepped. Over the years, in fact, the weak pattern has become so prevalent that we use the term regular to refer to verbs that form their past tense by suffixation of -ed. However, there have occasionally been changes in the other direction: the past tense of wear, now wore, was once werede, and that of spit, now spat, was once spitede. The development of dove is an additional example of the small group of verbs that have swum against the historical tide.

Yes, I know—I have a lot of time on my hands.

Then my friend Jeff tops it off with this humorous response: Oh. My. God. Oh wait, I mean, of course, Oh!!! My!!! God!!! And who says 110 in the shade is a more tolerable climate? I mean, really.
— Jeff “I don’t be toleratin’ no periods within my quotation marks” Evans

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.



One response

20 01 2014


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