“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Special Note: Gazing into the Y2K Snowglobe


Spittin’ Grits will be limping for a while. I hope you can bear with me.

Last week one day, I turned on my computer to get started on items to post to Spittin’ Grits. It came on, made that Windows sound you can’t hum, like the one on the television show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and the screen went blank. A stray lone cursor sat in the upper left corner, just blinking, like it had gone into a nutty coma. It had.

It appears my hard drive has caught the Y2K flu. It’s down, done, toast, like many thought would happen to computers worldwide at the turn of the millennium, Y2K. That time it didn’t really happen, except in people’s imagination. This meltdown really happened to my computer’s insides, the one with all my stuff on it.


I learned some years ago about losing every-thing on the hard drive: devastat-ing, like

being mugged. This time, I have an external back-up drive, which I trust was working properly. We haven’t gotten that far yet. I have also realized that my six-year-old Vaio laptop really doesn’t have the capacity for the projects I’m working on now, including Photoshopping pictures (lots of them), video editing, blogging, researching, and on and on.

So right now, I’m held captive by malfunctioning technology until my new system is built, shipped, and arrives. Then comes the migration of stuff to the new one. Then comes the learning process.

I plan to keep trying to post items during this semi-down time. Please keep coming back.

I’ll continue to gaze into my Y2K snowglobe (pictured above with the wind-up bug), looking for answers.


Argentine Nights: What You Will


Clown: “A sentence is but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!”

Viola (disguised): “Nay, that’s certain. They that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton.

Twelfth Night, 3.1.11-115

A segment of the movie version of Twelfth Night

Wanton Words

Aren’t words great? You can do so much with them. You can find out so much about other people through them. You don’t have as many as you might think, so when all else fails, you can just make them up.

Words are a lot like the large and small rocks, stones, and pebbles you find along hilly paths or mountain trails, around lakes, on beaches. I picked up some beautiful rocks from the Homer Spit in Alaska. I put some in my suitcase to bring home and then had to get a porter to help me with my luggage.

clip_image001Words can make you feel dressed for the Ball or bare you down to your birthday suit. Like they did recently to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Words ultimately will out you along with the truth. 


Naked Words

The reason for the dominance of English in the world is the size of its vocabulary. Most estimates, including those in The Story of English, say that German contains 185,000 words and French a mere 100,000 . On June 10, the English language embraced its one-millionth “word.” A controversy ensued, which tells me that you can create a controversy out of anything. Whether it was the 500,000th or the millionth, English still does the best job at revealing our minds.

The problem I have with this one-millionth word is that first, it’s not a word, and second, you can’t use it in Scrabble. It’s “Web 2.0.” Isn’t it a word plus some numbers? Or am I just out of the loop?

English has so many words because speakers have been not just willing, but eager, to take them in from everywhere and make them our own. And then make them up as needed.


A couple of words I made up a good while ago came to mind recently: refuctious and orificious.

Refuctious seemed just right to define my granddaughter’s “MINE” behavior I talked about in All Mine, All the Time MINE Parts I (June 10) and II (July 9). You can read those by clicking on Grandparents in the right column.

And orificious seemed just right when the Sanford scandal broke. “Officious” means overzealous, especially about petty stuff; self-important, intrusive, meddling. Mostly we know what “orifice” means.

Naked Truth

Those now-public love e-mails sent to Sanford’s Argentine squeeze are gagified (not a certified word yet but should be made the opposite of “beautified”):

You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that is so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light — but hey, that would be going into the sexual details we spoke of at the steakhouse at dinner — and unlike you I would never do that!

Sanford tries to say he loves her “being,” what he calls her rare attribute. “Above all else I love that inner beauty about you.” Bunk. I think “orificious” best suits what suits him.

As for outing himself, he is quoted as saying something like “I’m trying to fall in love with my wife again.” He’s outed as wanton as far as I’m concerned.

Languinerds in Love

Most languinerds agree that Shakespeare made up or re-introduced some 3,000 words into English. They also agree that his vocabulary totals between 25,000 and 29,000 words, depending on how you count different forms of the same word. Amazingly, this number is almost twice what the average college graduate has (12,000-15,000) and four or five times what the average high school graduate has (5,000-7,000).

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night alone (from which the introductory quote is taken), according to Book Scraper, the Bard used ten words he didn’t use in any of his other works. He used 19,710 words to tell this story.

So, here’s the score:

English language 1,000,000

Mark Sanford 0


The Story of English, third edition, is available at on-line book sellers.






12thNightDVD Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was made into a movie and is available on DVD. It is also on YouTube in segments. See the first segment by clicking on the video above which opens the post.





The Grits Grammar War in Three Part Hominy – Part III

. . .Continued from Part I, June 14, and Part II, June 29. Those posts can be accessed by clicking on “Grits” in the right column.

Still Tied

The tally on whether grits is or are is even. So, let’s keep going.

First, the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, 29th edition, The Associated Press press, 1994: I’m quoting. “WORDS PLURAL IN FORM, SINGULAR IN MEANING: Some take singular verbs: measles, mumps, news. Others take plural verbs: grits, scissors.

Score one more for are.

Second, The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition) tells you to look it up in the dictionary. Well, o.k., cowards.


Let’s start with Webster’s New World Dictionary for Young Readers, 1976. Grits is starred as being an American English word meaning “coarsely ground wheat or corn.”  They tag it plural.

One more for are.

Then there’s The American Heritage dic tion ar y of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000: Grits (grits) pl.n. (used with a singular or plural verb)

One more for are and one more for is.

Grammar Books

We’ll start with a really EARLY one: English Grammar, G.P. Quackenbos (I am not making this up), New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871.

The Preface by the author is dated 1862, almost 10 years before publication. I guess the Civil War delayed publication or Quakenbos didn’t want to give the South any free PR:

In offering the present Grammar to the public, the author [never refer to yourself personally was a rule much in vogue in 1871] begs leave to refer to the work itself [his own book] as the best exponent of those peculiarities [his own views of grammar, as stated in the previous paragraph] by which it [this book] is to be approved or condemned. . . .

Oh BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, boring. I’ll put the rest in a footnote.

So, all that said, let’s see what Quackenbos says about grits. On page 43 of the yellowed, fragile pages, he says:

91. Singular Nouns. – The following nouns have no plural: --

3. The names of many articles sold by weight or measure; as, flax, lard, lead, cider, milk, pitch, rye.”

While he does NOT specifically cite grits, we in the South know grits were sold by weight or measure; he was from and lived in New York before the Civil War. If he didn’t even know grits existed, how could he have included them in his list?

Then he lists plural nouns that have no singular. Again, grits is/are not on his list, but greens are.

So, what can we conclude? Oh, hell, nothing. But for fun, we’ll give is a vote.

Finally, I turned to a grammar book that was revised in 1952 by Dr. James B. McMillan, who was my graduate school linguistics professor at The University of Alabama. The UA Press's building  is named for Dr. McMillan. If anyone knew, he knew. It’s Writing and Thinking, published by The Riverside Press in Cambridge. I call that credible.

In the section about subject/verb agreement, p. 111, McMillan says:

Use a singular verb with most nouns which are plural in form but singular in meaning.

Note: Many nouns with a plural form may be either singular or plural in meaning.

Almost always singular: economics, . . . mathematics, . . .measles, mumps, news. . . .

No grits. But, in contradiction to The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, if grits is like news, it’s singular. One more for is.

Is is up by one, I think. Like, who cares. This calls for a recipe.

Cajun Grits


Talk About Good!: Le Livre de la Cuisine de Lafayette (25th Anniversary edition. Junior League of LaFayette 1992), like many Junior League cookbooks from across America, is an all-around good cookbook and has plenty of grits and hominy recipes for future posts. Here’s one:

Grits Bread (p. 118)

3 c. cooked grits                    4 beaten eggs

1 c. uncooked corn meal           milk as needed

1 Tbsp. baking powder               1 stick butter [Remember this ingredient.]

salt to taste                                       cooked sausage or bacon

Mix cooked grits, corn meal, baking powder, salt and eggs together. Add a small amount of milk, only enough for mixture to be a thick consistency. Cover bottom of baking pan with cooking oil, add mixture. Top with margarine [butter?] and sausage or bacon. Cook one hour at 400 degrees.            Mrs. Richard Williams

Remember the butter? The recipe says to cover the bottom of the baking pan with oil; then it says to top with margarine Where does 1 stick of butter go? One stick is a lot. So here’s my suggestion. Drop the oil and margarine. Use some of the butter for the bottom of the baking pan; then top the bread with butter; then butter the bread for toast with butter. Have we about used it all up?

Now it doesn’t make a damn whether grits IS or ARE. Eat ‘em and the war’s over.

FOOTNOTE: The Quackenbos book. Warning: It’s boring.

“Grammar has hitherto been a dry and hard subject to teach [as is this man’s writing]. It is here sought to make it [grammar] easy and interesting by combining practice with theory, example with precept, on a more liberal scale than has heretofore generally been done. . . .[Now I’m really eager to dig into the book’s details.]

Words are classified as parts of speech solely and exclusively according to their use in the sentence. This course does away with all arbitrary distinctions, and enables the pupil to classify words readily and correctly for himself.” [The italics are Quackenbos’s, not mine-o’s.]

All Mine, All the Time, MINE – Part II


It’s gotten more refuctious. Yes, refuctious – one of the most appropriate words I’ve ever made up. It will be the subject of a later post.

If you remember from the Part I post of June 10, I argued that “MINE!” is a more awful attribute of the Terrible Twos than is “NO!” Now I REALLY stand by that conclusion. Tea Party - Web

How can anything this cute behave so refuctiously?

After posting that essay, I started looking for information on the question of where the belief that everything is theirs could have come from. Then I mulled over the question of how they put the word “MINE” in front of everything they saw. If she were being brought up by Paris Hilton, I could understand it.

First, I looked in my trusty toddler book What to Expect: The Toddler Years by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff, and Sandee E. Hathaway. If you’ve been pregnant, you likely have What to Expect when You’re Pregnant and know about the What To Expect series.

In “The Twenty-Second Month,” the authors have a brief section on Generosity Turned Selfish in response to a question from the mother of a female toddler:

Your daughter, like most children in their second year, has suddenly realized [the concept of ownership.] . . . Now she has a new sense of self and of ownership (These are mine!”).

It’s important to recognize that the impulse to guard what is hers (and occasionally grab what she wants to be hers) reflects not selfishness but a developmental stage. . . A willingness to share with her playmates – at least part of the time – probably won’t be forthcoming for at least a year.”

A YEAR? A Whole YEAR???

I resorted to pulling out my old Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, the 40th Anniversary Edition revised and updated for the 1980s. The copyright information says that Dr. Spock came out with his first book in 1945. Amazing. He essentially says the same thing: “If your child at 2 doesn’t give up her possessions, she is behaving normally. Amazingly refuctious.

So the answer to the first part of the question sounds like, “It’s a developmental thing.” As they begin to define their sense of self, everything revolves around them. It’s “theirs.” I guess Paris Hilton is still two.

Just the other day I, my husband, and our granddaughter Joanna Leigh, 25 months old, went on an outing to Piggly Wiggly. We needed thick, overnight diapers, bananas, pears, yogurt, flavored water (for her nighttime ba-ba, the subject of yet another post), cat food, and come to think of it, not much for us except a frozen pizza for that night’s supper. There was a time I wouldn’t have considered eating a grocery-store pizza for supper, but toddlers change lives, especially grandparent’s lives when they are parenting that toddler.

We were at the check-out when I realized I needed vacuum cleaner bags. “7-B,” said the clerk. So I high-tailed it to the back left part of the store. Looking, looking, looking. Suddenly I hear high-pitched wails from the front of the store.

“Why doesn’t that mother do something,” I said out loud to the cleaning supplies. No vacuum bags. Anywhere. Crying from the front. Suddenly it hit me. “That’s Joanna Leigh!”


I high-tail it back to the front, just as my husband and the baby were headed to the door. She had real tears in her eyes and was still crying.

“What on Earth?” I asked.

“You won’t believe it,” my husband replied. “When I got the yogurt out of the buggy to put on the scanner, she started screaming ‘MINE, my yogurt. Mine’.”

“NO. Say it’s not so.” I looked back at the check-out clerk. She met my eye, with a LOOK.

It WAS so. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to ALL the mothers out there that I have given LOOKS to when their kids were acting up in public, and believe me, there have been many.

I think I have found the answer to the second part of the question. You have things to do, and I’ll have to study this. I will explain it as best I can in Part III.

Meanwhile, you pronounce refuctious thusly: re-fuc΄-shus.

Photo by Emory Kimbrough





(Continued from Part I, May 11, and Part II, June 17)

Take Us to Our Leader

Researchers at Ohio State University at Newark have been looking under a rock or two.

First, when a group is without a leader, you can often count on a narcissist to take charge, the new study suggests. Amy Brunell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at the university, observed: “It’s not surprising, but the desire for power is what really drives narcissists to seek leadership positions,” she said.

Remember, Bush was The Decider, not The Leader.

She adds a caution: It is important not to confuse narcissism with high self-esteem, she said. “A person with high self-esteem is confident and charming, but they also have a caring component. . .,” Brunell explained. “Narcissists have an inflated view of their talents and abilities and are all about themselves. They don’t care as much about others.”

Here’s the punch line: Narcissists are more likely to become leaders, results of one of the studies suggests, but once in power, narcissists don’t perform any better than others in that leadership role. “It’s not surprising that narcissists become leaders,” Brunell said. “They like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extraverted. But the problem is, they don’t necessarily make better leaders.”


And the pièce de résistance: “There have been a lot of studies that have found narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision-making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders,” she said.


Treatment? Torture?

So what is a Nation to do? The Psychology Today site offers suggestions for treatment, but maybe it is not prudent to interfere with nature.

“Psychotherapy may be useful in getting the individual with narcissistic personality disorder to relate to others in a less maladaptive manner. To avoid angering the patient, it’s important to work with, rather than belittle, the narcissistic ego. A therapist should, for example, address a patient's heightened self-importance and desire for control by saying such things as ‘Because you are obviously such an intelligent and sensitive person, I'm sure that, working together, we can get you past your current difficulties’.”

Ok, get him back on Fox News.

“If group therapy is used,” the site suggests “the therapist should, tactfully but firmly, place limits on their speaking time so that they cannot control the discussion or focus all the attention on themselves.”

Well, this isn’t gonna work.

And more: “While empathizing with the patient, the therapist should offer reality testing. If a patient complains that, ‘things are really going wrong’ or ‘everyone is against me’, the therapist might sympathize, but tactfully point out the reality of the situation and how it could be improved by behavior changes the patient could make.”

Well, a reality check really isn’t gonna work.

There’s this: “For patients with narcissistic personality disorder, the least restrictive treatment environment is preferable.”

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Keith Olbermann has already been there, and he’s not even a therapist. At the end of his Special Commentary, he said

You, Mr. Cheney, you terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years, and now it is time for you to desist, or to be made to desist. . . . More than 400 years ago, when a British Parliament attempted to govern after its term had expired, it was dispersed by the actions, and words, of Oliver Cromwell.

“ ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately’, he told them — exactly as, Mr. Cheney, exactly as a nation now tells you: ‘Depart, I say, and let us have done with you’.

“In the name of God… go!”

That’ll work. After all, a hidden cold stone gathers no moss. Just go write your memoirs.


In Memoriam: Dr. John L. Blackburn, 1924-2009

Today, Spittin’ Grits honors Dr. John L. Blackburn, who died at 84 on  Friday, July 3, 2009. One of the most honorable and upright men I’ve known, Blackburn, with Dean of Women Sarah Healey, is largely responsible for the peaceful integration of The University of Alabama in 1963 during his tenure as Dean of Men, despite Gov. George Wallace’s showy and futile “stand in the schoolhouse door.” He also played a serious role in ensuring the protection of and support for Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood.

His influence on several generations of students and adults is legend. He remained close friends with Jones until her untimely death several years ago and with Hood until his own death last Friday.

The University paid tribute to Blackburn by establishing the Blackburn Institute in 1995, which has become a nationally recognized leadership development program for UA students.

Blackburn also helped ensure UA’s future ability to offer students financial aid. As Vice President for Educational Development from 1978-1990, he led the first public fund raising campaign, the Sesquicentennial Campaign, for academic endowments, breaking a long-held tradition that public universities should not raise fund from private sources, especially in a state where it is rude to talk about money, politics, and religion. It brought $63 million for 16 endowed chairs, 14 professorships, and 250 academic scholarships. The University’s endowment went from $21 million to $79 million at his retirement in 1990.

He told a reporter once that when alumni would say, “I would die for the University,” he replied, “No, you don’t have to do that; just sent $1,000 and stay alive.” His efforts tapped into the alumni’s love for the institution and their continuing financial support.

Blackburn raised twice as much money in ten years as the University had done in 148 years.

Private giving to the University is now firmly established, and alumni generosity has ensured The University of Alabama’s rightful place as a major academic  influence and educational institution in the state and nation.

Blackburn opened opportunities for my future career at the University when he hired me as his Special Assistant to the Vice President for Educational Development. I worked with him and for him for more than five years.

When I went to interview with him, I was scared to death. We had crossed paths in 1964 when he was a feared Dean of Men. I had been a co-chair and –writer of a skit presented with several others in Foster Auditorium. My sorority and one of the fraternities collaborated on “Blackfinger,” to compete with the rival sorority-fraternity creations that night. Dr. Blackburn, UA President Frank Rose, and Dean of Women Sarah Healey sat on the front row, and they were guffawing because we watched them from behind the curtains.

The skit was a take-off on the James Bond movie blockbuster “Goldfinger,” and a parody of Dr. Blackburn and the whole administration. It was hilarious, if I do say so.

After what must have been serious reflection, we were all called into the Dean’s offices Monday morning. I was scared. As best I remember, we were all put on social probation for maybe a week. That was in the days we had to be in the dorms by 9 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends, so it wasn’t like we missed tons of social opportunities.

As the interview with Blackburn progressed twenty-something years later, I was terrified that he would go down to the basement files and figure out I was one of the culprits behind “Blackfinger.” He didn’t. He hired me.

I later told him about my role in “Blackfinger.” He just laughed in that unmistakable gravel voice of his that scared many male students for many years.

I am personally saddened by his loss. But I am forever grateful for my years under his guidance. I will miss him.


The family suggests that memorial gifts be made to the Blackburn Institute, P.O.Box 870122, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0122.


400-Year-Old Grits

O ne of the most appropriate facts of American history is that Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, fifty years after the American Revolution. If a president had to die on a July 4, thank goodness it was Jefferson and not, say, Millard Fillmore. So, this weekend, on America’s 233rd birthday and 183rd anniversary of Jefferson’s death, we can raise our grits to both.

225px-T_Jefferson_by_Charles_Willson_Peale_1791_2Thomas Jefferson portrait by American artist Charles Wilson Peale

Thomas Jefferson certainly served grits, says Craig Claiborne, one of the King’s of Culinary America and food editor for The New York Times. In a June 23, 1976 (at America’s Bicentennial), Times piece (available for purchase), Claiborne says, “When it came to the pleasures of the table Jefferson possessed extraordinary, undisputed taste.”

He refers to the most comprehensive work of Jefferson’s kitchen adventures -- Marie Kimball’s Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book, available from the University of Virginia Press and from booksellers. A true grits lover, Claiborne goes on to say:

Throughout his lifetime, Jefferson’s table was no doubt supplied with such Southern staples as fried chicken, country ham, numerous kind of foods based on corn, including corn bread made in a black skillet, grits, and whole hominy.

Gritty Toast

But there’s more to raise our grits to. And grits is/are appropriate, as you can already see, for a toast.

As noted in the May 4 post, First Food, First Family, some call corn products -- grits, hominy, and meal -- America’s First Food, having saved the lives of Capt. John Smith and his group at Jamestown the winter of 1608. This fact suggests that America is more like 400 years old this summer.

And there’s even more. It took a while for America to become thoroughly American, for the Western World to shed the notion that America was just the Englishmen’s Annex. You don’t accomplish such a feat over a night in 1776. Certain political and cultural things have to happen, such as the right guys being born at the right time in order to intersect with history, including Ben Franklin, T. Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Paul Revere and guys like that. Those are some of the political factors.

American had to also find its voice through writers, artists, musicians, artisans and many other venues.

The Grits Venue

Twenty years after the Revolution, in 1796, a cultural event took place that is one of those special markers on the unlit path to becoming America.

That year a young orphan lady named Amelia Simmons published a cookbook. Yeh, it wasn’t a guy and it was a cookbook. Prior cookbooks were just reprints of European works. All had been written by men for men and usually for the upper classes. Until then no cookbook dealt with the indigenous food ingredients available in America. This little 47-page democratic gem probably sealed America’s culinary fate:

AMERICAN COOKERY or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and all Kinds of Cakes from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake Adapted to the Country and All Grades of Life.

AmericanCookery-MSU This was the first cookbook aimed democratically at the masses and slanted towards women; it is the first book to show corn meal as a primary ingredient. It includes the first recipes for Indian Slapjacks and Johnny Cake, as well as “A Nice Indian Pudding,” all of which became staples in the following centuries. Text and page images of this original edition are available at the Michigan State University Digital Library “Feeding America” site.

In the preface, Miss Amelia says:

As this treatise is calculated for the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America, the Lady of fashion and fortune will not be displeased, if many hints are suggested for the more general and universal knowledge of those females in this country, who by the loss of their parents, or other unfortunate circumstances, are reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics, or taking refuge with their friends or relations, and doing those things which are really essential to the perfecting them as good wives, and useful members of society.

It’s a lot to celebrate. So this 4th of July, serve grits.

amer025 In honor of the birthday, here are Miss Amelia’s three recipes for A Nice Indian Pudding, found in the facsimile on page 26:

No. 1. 3 pints scalded milk, 7 spoons fine Indian meal, stir well together while hot, let stand till cooled; add 7 eggs, half pound raisins, 4 ounces butter, spice and sugar, bake one and half hour.

No. 2. 3 pints scalded milk to one pint meal salted; cool, add 2 eggs, 4 ounces of butter, sugar or molasses and spice q.s. it will require two and half hours.

No. 3. Salt a pint meal, wet with one quart milk, sweeten and put into a strong cloth, brass or bell metal vessel, stone or earthen pot, secure from wet and boil 12 hours.

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