Friday, June 29, 2012

Are Orthopedists Really Stronger Than an Ox?

Dear Madame L,

I'm a pre-med student who had orthopedic surgery as a child. Ever since then, when that orthopedic surgeon fixed my badly broken leg so I can now walk without a limp and even play sports, I've wanted to become an orthopedist myself.

But then some people in my lab told me this joke, that orthopedists are stronger than an ox and about twice as dumb, so now I'm wondering about this. Can you reassure me?


Pre-Med Student

Dear Doctor-To-Be,

Madame L would like to reassure you that orthopedic surgeons are among the smartest medical school graduates, in one of the most competitive areas of medicine. And that's true. Apparently it's only AFTER they get their medical degrees that they lose some of their competitive edge, at least according to their colleagues. 

Joking aside, orthopedic surgeons' mostly undeserved, Madame L is sure, reputation for being strong but not too bright is probably due to the fact that bone-setters in the past tended to be large, strong men, rather than medical practitioners.

For example, here's a quote from a medical journal article (titled...wait for it..."Are orthopaedic surgeons gorillas?"  in 1988: 

  "Before the advent of modern orthopaedics fractures and dislocations were the domain of the bonesetter. In
the absence of anaesthetics closed reductions required considerable strength to overcome muscle spasm, and thus bonesetters were often large men, traditionally blacksmiths and farmers. Hugh Owen Thomas, though small himself, came from four generations of farmer bonesetters noted for their size. In 1887 he recorded the need for "ten large and heavy men (carters) to reduce the shoulder dislocation."3 Other eminent
orthopaedic surgeons of the time were large. Abraham Colles was described as a man of above middle size4 and Robert Jones as a "bulky figure."'

Inspired, perhaps, by that article, researchers came up with this one, two years later: "Are orthopaedic surgeons really gorillas?"

They claimed to have found that orthopedists "...have larger hands than general surgeons, and we favour a work hypertrophy theory. Immunological recognition may be a factor in the selection and survival of surgical residents. Orthopaedic surgeons are slightly closer to gorillas than are general surgeons. Live gorillas' glove size is a difficult variable to measure."

Ah, the fun-loving life of a medical researcher! --- And of those who review such articles for publication --- as, for instance, those who commented on it:

 "There are, however, several areas of the statistical analysis presented that require attention. In particular, no logistic regression analysis or covariate adjustment has been made for left or right hand dominance, age, and sex of the primates. Indeed, the sex of the gorillas does not seem to have been established. A 33% drop out rate in the gorilla group is a serious drawback. The authors' explanation of non-compliance suggests a certain lack of determination by one of their investigators.
  "A Cox's proportional hazards muddle incorporating censored data is clearly appropriate to properly assess investigator survival time and should be included.
  "The major fault with the experimental design is the failure to satisfy item nine of the BMJ clinical trials statistical checklist. Thus it is clear that an affirmative answer to the question: "Was the potential degree of
blindness used?" is not possible. In a truly blind study the authors should not know anything about the results
and neither should the reader.
  "Regretfully, I must therefore turn down this paper on statistical grounds and recommend it for publication."

More recently, researchers performed a slightly more statistically valid study comparing the hand size and IQ's of orthopedic surgeons with anethetists. (The researchers' humor has not appreciably improved in the 20-some-odd years since the previous studies.) This article, by the way, gives the "correct" or "standard" version of the joke you've heard: "Orthopaedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever? Multicentre prospective comparative study." These researchers, tongues firmly in cheeks,concluded:

  "The stereotypical image of male orthopaedic surgeons as strong but stupid is unjustified in comparison with their male anaesthetist counterparts. The comedic repertoire of the average anaesthetist needs to be revised in the light of these data. However, we would recommend caution in making fun of orthopaedic surgeons, as unwary anaesthetists may find themselves on the receiving end of a sharp and quick witted retort from their intellectually sharper friends or may be greeted with a crushing handshake at their next encounter."

Does any of this help you with your decision about which medical specialty to choose? Madame L hopes you won't drop out of college or quit your day job, whatever it is, to become a comedian, anyway...unless you're better with humor than these doctors!


Madame L

P.S. In the spirit of obstinate perfectionistic contrarian grammarianism, Madame L wants to point out that if you tell that joke in the future, you should say that orthopedists are stronger than OXEN, or that ONE orthopedist is stronger than AN OX.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Weird Words of the Week: Neutrophil, Eosinophil, Basophil, Lymphocyte, and Monocyte

When Madame L was reading about thalassemia last week, she chanced upon a great website with information about all kinds of blood cells.

Madame L was particularly fascinated to learn about five types of white blood cells (leukocytes), and has pasted images of them below. (Madame L hopes you'll want to read the whole article.)

     Each type of leukocyte is present in the blood in different proportions:
     neutrophil 50 - 70 %
     eosinophil 2 - 4 %
     basophil 0,5 - 1 %
     lymphocyte 20 - 40 %
     monocyte 3 - 8 %

Neutrophils are very active in phagocyting bacteria and are present in large amount in the pus of wounds.
Eosinophils attack parasites and phagocyte antigen-antibody complexes.

Basophils secrete anti-coagulant and vasodilatory substances as histamines and serotonin.
Lymphocytes are cells which, besides being present in the blood, populate the lymphoid tissues and organs too, as well as the lymph circulating in the lymphatic vessel.

Monocytes are the precursors of macrophages. They are larger blood cells, which after attaining maturity in the bone marrow, enter the blood circulation where they stay for 24-36 hours.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, June 24, 2012: Educating Esme (Songs)

Madame L just has to mention some more great things about "Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year," by Esme Raji Codell: the songs!

Since Madame L had never heard of "New York Charanga," from the list below, before reading this book, she checked it out on YouTube, and shares it with you here. Madame L loves it!

Here's a list of most of the songs mentioned in the book---songs the author (who insists that her students call her "Madame Esme" instead of Ms. Codell, another reason to admire her!) remembers from her childhood, songs that keep her from going insane as she deals with insane administrators and parents and an insane education system:

  • Mu-Cha-Cha, from Bells Are Ringing
  • Getting to Know You, from The King and I
  • Funkier than a Mosquita's Tweeter, by Tina Turner
  • Nothing from Nothing, by Billy Preston
  • Jealousy, by Jacob Gade from Tango Argentino
  • Perpetuum Mobile, by Novacek (performed by Itzhad Perlman)
  • Prelude and Allegro, by Kreisler (performed by Itzhad Perlman)
  • Tenderly, by Bill Evans
  • The Beautiful Land, by Anthony Newley (from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd)
  • Sing a Simple Song, by Sly and the Family Stone
  • New York Charanga, by David Amram
  • On How to be Lovely, in Funny Face (performed by Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson)
  • Control Yourself, performed by Jackie and Roy Kral
  • Every Day I Write the Book, by Elvis Costello 
  • Stoney End, by Laura Nyro
  • Cabaret, performed by Jill Haworth
  • Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, by B.J. Thomas
  • La Vie en Rose
  • Softly, William, Softly, by Dave Brubeck
  • Cinderella's Departure for the Ball, by Prokofiev
  • The Moldau, by Smetana
Dear Readers, do any of these songs move you or keep you from going insane? What do you sing or hum to yourself or what beat do you walk to when you're stressed out, happy, angry, sad, and so on? Please share them with the rest of us! 

Madame L will be looking for other songs from this list on YouTube, to share with you and will share some of her own favorites.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Does the NBA Season Last So Long?

Dear Madame L,

As someone who is not a fan of basketball, at least as played by the National Basketball Association, I'm getting sick and tired of seeing these so-called "final" games drag on into June. I remember when the finals were done by the end of March.

What's up with the NBA's super long season?


Futbol Fan

Dear Futbol Fan,

Madame L can think of only one answer, in two words, to your question: 

Money. Commercials.

Need Madame L say more? She thought not.

Now that the season is over and the Miami Heat (and some say LeBron James) have won, does that improve your opinion of professional basketball? No? Madame L thought not.


Madame L 

P.S. Madame L hopes you like this color for the background of this post. It's supposed to remind you of the color of the official basketballs they use in the NBA.


Dear Madame L,

I know you already did your "Weird Word of the Week" for this week. But check out this word I just found explained on my friend Kathy Kidd's blog: Interrobang!

Can you tell your Dear Readers more about this?


Blown Away by a New and Bizarre Punctuation Mark

Dear Blown Away,

You mean you've never ended a sentence with a question mark and then an exclamation point, or an exclamation point followed by a question mark?!

Madame L is happy to hear that, because if SHE were your English teacher, she would have deducted points for such usage.

However, as your friend Kathy notes in her blog, there really is such a thing, which can also be called an interrabang, and here's what it looks like:

Best (!?),

Madame L

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inequality In America

Madame L,

I saw a bit of Rachel Maddow's show last night and saw a graph that showed that the idea of the 1% earning most of the money seems to be true. Could you find that graph and show it here?


Shocked and Dismayed

Dear Dismayed,

Thanks for pointing Madame L to this graph. 

(Madame L isn't watching Rachel as much as she used to because she doesn't like being talked down to and lectured at and having every sentence/idea repeated three or four or five times. But she does like the ideas Rachel discusses, and so she's happy to read about them this way.

(Note to Madame L's Dear and Gentle Readers: You may also want to go to The Maddow Blog to catch up on ideas and graphics.)

And here's some of the accompanying information about the chart:

The chart "...comes as part of a nice collection of related infographics on the Mother Jones site.

"If you're a source material kind of person, the actual study is here (pdf) and includes another, longer chart, which one of the researchers, Dan Ariely, explains on his blog.

"Also, you may be aware, Timothy Noah at Slate wrote a huge series about income inequality. Here's his write-up of the study that produced this chart."

What does all this mean?  It means that we're even LESS EQUAL than most of us thought, and certainly than most of us want. 

What can we do about it? Madame L suggests you VOTE DEMOCRATIC this year and every year, and give monetary and volunteering support to your Democratic candidates. Also, give to charities and/or pay tithing to your church so that people with less wealth can have a chance to join the middle class.


Madame L

Obama's So-Called Kill List

Dear Madame L,

I've been hearing a lot about Pres. Obama's so-called "Kill List," which he uses to decide which terrorists, including American citizens, will be targeted in drone strikes.

It seems like he's way too personally involved in this. What do you think?


Hope I'm Not on the List

Dear Not on the List,

Madame L is 100% positive that you are not on the so-called "Kill List"---unless you have traveled to a terrorist training camp and/or have threatened the U.S. or its citizens. And if either of those is the case, then Madame L does not feel sorry for you.

Who else do you think should be in charge of making those kinds of decisions, anyway? The President of the U.S. is also the Commander-in-Chief. He is responsible for our nation's and our citizens' safety, so if and when people are trying to threaten our society, he's just doing his job to protect us.


Madame L

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Thalassemia

Thalassemia is a hereditary disease in which the body makes mal-formed or not enough red blood cells, resulting in a person's being anemic. The word comes from thh Greek thalassa ("sea") and -emia ("blood"). It is most common in people of Mediterranean descent. It's not the same as sickle-cell disease.

That's the short definition. Madame L found an incredible number of websites with much more thorough discussions of the variations of this condition and how it is inherited.

Madame L understood the discussion of the disease much better after she read this "Fun Science" article about the different types of blood cells. 

She also found this illuminating definition and discussion:

"Thalassemia is an inherited disorder that leads to the decreased production and increased destruction of red blood cells. Hemoglobin, found in red blood cells, is responsible for carrying oxygen through the body to all of the organ systems. Low hemoglobin, due to loss of red blood cells, leads to anemia and the inability of the body to deliver oxygen and maintain normal functions."

Here's a great illustration from this article of red blood cells and how they collect oxygen from the lungs to give to tissue cells:

If after reading this you're worried that you may have thalassemia, not to worry: If you had it, you would already know about it, because the symptoms, which include anemia and jaundice, an enlarged spleen, enlarged and fragile bones, growth problems, pale skin, thyroid and liver problems, heart failure, shortness of breath, and gallstones, usually begin within three to six months after birth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Spam Comments

Dear Madame L,

I've been writing a blog, and sometimes I get some weird comments. Fortunately, I followed the advice of my friend who's been doing this for a long time, and I made it so comments can only appear if I approve them first. (This turns out to be a real pain because I'm spending more time on this than I thought I would be, but that's life, I guess.) 

Anyway, can you please tell me what the purpose is of these people who just write comments like this:

Just as smoking dries up the skin, the opposite is carried out by working out. Preserving cash on wholesale handbags can feel definitely fantastic inside the beginning, but when you are not pleased with your order, you realize in which it really is going ? the back corner with the closet. Ladies generally preserve their handbags with them whatever they do. Households should also shell out interest for the geographical area in which they have bought a home or rented an apartment. You will discover jordan 2 also personalized handbags, such as monogrammed tote bags, evening bags, and also sports activities bags, luggage and backpacks. If you have them each, you'll develop into straightforward irresistible, although. For almost certainly essentially the most element, this technology is not super viable, only because during the reality the photo voltaic panel around the huge majority of photo voltaic backpacks isn't going to defend a really large surface area. Abundant hues can conceivable on Global Warning, Really?

I mean, really, what's the point? This is like the language of a crazy person, and there's no way I'm going to let it be published on my blog.

What are your thoughts about this?


Just Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Madame L confesses that she knows nothing whatsoever about why people would do this, but, because her motto is, "Madame L Answers All," she has done some research on the subject, and this is what she has learned.

First, you'll be interested in the Wikipedia entry on "Spam in blogs." 

Second, here's another blogger's explanation of why spammers may be doing this. Apparently, they may have embedded links that (1) lead you back to their site, so they get more hits and a higher search rating, or (2) infect your computer with a virus if you click on them.

Third, it seems to Madame L that by taking the time to screen comments, you're doing the right thing, and it's worth the extra time.

Dear Readers, if you have any more knowledge about this issue, helpful insights, or (non-spam!) comments, please share them.


Madame L

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review, Sunday, June 17, 2012: Educating Esme

Madame L knows she already mentioned "Educating Esme," by Esme Raji Codell, in her review of "Sahara Special" for Aunt Louise on Friday; but she's mentioning it again because it's such a good book, so worthy of being read, that she wants to encourage her Dear Readers and Friends again to read it. 

It really is, as Madame L wrote there, "...that good, that enthralling, that wonderful. In fact, it was so good that Madame L is thinking that after she reads it one more time and returns it to the library, she'll order it from (for only $5.18---why not?!?)."

Here's an excerpt from the book:

     April 15

     I'm glad I didn't yell at Latoya today.

     I almost yelled, "This is the fourth day in a row you're a half-hour late! You're missing important math  instruction, and I don't appreciate repeatng myself!"  But then I remembered I promised myself to try not to single children out for public humiliation, which has been my modus operandi of late, but to talk --- and listen --- privately instead.

     "Is there a reason you have been late four days in a row?" I asked her, alone in the hall.

     "We are in a shelter this week, and I have to drop my little brother off and take the train over. It takes longer than I thought. I'm sorry, I'll be with my aunt next week and then I can walk over."

     "Don't apologize. I'm proud ofyou for coming each day. It wouldn't be the same here without you, don't forget that. And even though we can't wait for you, if you miss an explanation in math, just ask me or a classmate..."

     For the rest of the day I was glad I listened instead of yelled, but I still burned with shame at the thought of what I almost said and at all the occasions I have spoken harshly.

The whole book isn't like that, of course. There are moments of humor, moments of inspiration, moments of rage at the laughably incompetent administrators Madame Esme had to deal with that first year of teaching, moments of pure delight as the children made progress, and moments of exhaustion.

This is a quick read, not because it's easy or light on substance, but because you'll want to get every moment of it as fast as you can, you'll be greedy for more. You'll want to know more about the teacher who "burned with shame" at not living up to the best ideals of teaching every moment of every day. Those Dear Readers who are or have been teachers, you'll especially relate to these first-year-teacher experiences. Those Dear Readers who haven't taught, you'll have more empathy for teachers---even your own (horrible, or mediocre, or great) fifth-grade teachers. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Dad Is Trying to Teach Me to Drive (Give Your Dad a Break!)

Dear Madame L,

My dad is trying to teach me to drive, and he's driving me crazy. He says some things sometimes that make me want to scream. He said yesterday that your reaction time is slower when you're driving faster, and obviously that's not true. Can you help me get through this experience and get my driver's license?


Fifteen And A Half

Dear 15.5,

Madame L feels your pain, but Madame L bets that if your dad were writing to her about these driving lessons, he would say that YOU are the one who is driving HIM crazy. 

Please, give your dad a break, and have some compassion for your dad.

Madame L has also tried to explain to more than a couple of beginning drivers why it's important to drive the speed limit, leave a safe distance between yourself and the car in front of you, and make sure you're alert and using your rear-view and side mirrors constantly as you drive.

Madame L suspects that your dad was trying to explain that at a higher speed, with the same reaction time as at a slower speed, your reaction may not be fast enough. As explained on this website, your vehicle's stopping distance depends on four things:
  • your perception time,
  • your reaction time,
  • your vehicle reaction time, and
  • your vehicle braking capability.
image shows two cars decelerating as they approach a junction. one car stops safely , whilst the other impacts a vehicle at the junction
Here's an excerpt from great physics-class-type explanation of the concept:

"Each incremental increase in speed reduces your ability to react in time to hazards, because you may be covering distance in less time than it takes to react. Normal reaction time is between .75 second and 1.5 seconds, on average. Average reaction time distance at 50 mph would be approximately 83 feet. At 70 mph, it is over 115 feet (over 7 modern car lengths). These numbers do not include braking distance, just reaction time. The average difference in reaction-time distance from 50 mph to 70 mph is about 32 feet... This is particularly important at night, when darkness restricts your visibility... When headlights finally light up a road hazard, it is often too late to avoid it. Many experts would tell you that even 50 mph is too fast for conditions at night, on [a] dark roadway."

Of course, being 15-1/2 years old, you already knew all that, didn't you....And that's yet another reason to give your dad a break.

And please wish him a HAPPY FATHER'S DAY and take extra special care of him. Madame L promises you that the day will come and isn't that far off that you'll be incredibly grateful for all the things your dad has done for you.

Take care,

Madame L

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What is the Mormon Church's Position on Gays and Lesbians?

Dear Madame L,

I have a gay friend who says the Mormon church hates gays and lesbians. Is that true?


Truth Seeker

Dear Truth Seeker,

Madame L thanks you for this question, which she is pretty sure will keep coming up more and more in coming months as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church) is in the news because of Mitt Romney's running in the 2012 presidential election.

Madame L is no expert on any of the issues raised by your question, and emphasizes that her answer and comments here represent only herself and her own personal  understandings and opinions, and not those of the LDS church or anyone else.

As you know, Madame L was raised in the LDS church and considers herself a good member of the church. She does not see any conflict between being gay or lesbian and being a member of the church. She acknowledges that it could be hard, since you can't be married in the temple to another person of the same sex. But she does know of some people who consider themselves homosexuals and good church members.

Madame L also thinks she understands the church's reasons for not wanting to perform marriages of same-sex couples, although she doesn't see any reason to prevent them from being married civilly and does see lots of reasons (including but not limited to issues of civil rights and Christ's example and teachings of loving all our brothers and sisters) to allow these marriages. 

In fact, a recent posting on, "Can you be both Mormon and gay?," explains that church leaders' understanding and explanations of issues surrounding homosexuality are changing, and Madame L welcomes this loving attitude toward LGBT's. 

Other recent postings also discuss personal experiences of gay church members, and Madame L applauds and admires these people for how they're sharing their experiences and feelings with family and church and community members. 

A related issue is of course whether people can be "born gay," and Madame L recommends a Scientific American Mind article that explores the research on this issue as well as a article on how some "maverick" Mormon leaders are welcoming gay Mormons.

The church's current teaching on whether people are "born gay" is that we don't know all the causes of homosexuality, and anyway that doesn't matter as much as how we treat each other. As  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said recently, "Many questions in life, including some related to same-gender attractions, must await a future answer, even in the next life. Until then, the truth is, God loves all his children.”

Madame L also recommends Dear Prudence's advice on how to treat a young child who seems to be acting "gay."

Please feel free to write again about this issue or any other. Madame L will as always do her best to answer your questions and refer you to others who have more experience and understanding.

Best wishes,

Madame L

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Quidditch

Dear Wonderful Weird Readers,

Thanks especially to Weird Wynn, AKA Jeff, for his comment on quiddity.

Madame L also wondered if the brilliant J.K. Rowling took the name of her wizards' game, quidditch, from that Latin-derived word, quiddity, which means the essence of a thing.

But it's not so, according to the author herself, in a 1999 radio interview with Diane Rehm:

JKR: I love making up words. There are a few key words in the books that wizards know and muggles, as in us - no-magic-people, don't know. Well, "muggle" is an obvious example. Then there's "quidditch." Quidditch is the wizarding sport. A journalist in Britain asked me... She said to me, "now, you obviously got the word "quidditch" from "quiddity," meaning the essence of a thing, it's proper nature," and I was really really tempted to say, "yes, you're quite right," because it sounded so intellectual, but I had to tell her the truth, which was that I wanted a word that began with "Q" -- on a total whim -- and I filled about, I don't know, 5 pages of a notebook with different "Q"-words until I hit "quidditch" and I knew that was the perfect one - when I finally hit "quidditch." 

If you're a fan of the Harry Potter books, you may enjoy reading that entire interview. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, June 10, 2012: "How to Behave and Why"

Madame L picked up this lovely little book on manners on a lark, and she loves it! Munro Leaf explains that if we want to know why we need good manners, we should ask ourselves these two questions:

"Are most of the people I know glad that I am here?" 


"Am I glad that I am here, myself?" 

To have friends, to be a friend, and to like yourself, Munro Leaf says, "You have to be HONEST. You have to be FAIR. You have to be STRONG and You have to be WISE."

Does the name "Munro Leaf" sound familiar? It should, because he's the author of one of Madame L's most favorite children's books of all time, "The Story of Ferdinand." The illustrations in "How to Behave and Why" aren't as detailed and fanciful as in the Ferdinand book, but they're just right for the subject.

"How to Behave and Why" was first published in 1946, but it still works for Madame L. This summer, though, she's going to see if some of her younger friends enjoy it as much as she did, and she'll let her Dear Readers know the result.

Meanwhile, Madame L also found "'Someday You'll Thank Me for This!'And Other Annoying (but True) Life Lessons," by Marc Gellman, in her local library. It's for children who can read, unlike the "How to Behave" book, but it uses the same approach: Use good manners because it helps you get along with the people around you and makes you a better person. 

The operating principle here is the Golden Rule, with funny-but-true and true-to-life examples ranging from why you should speak up so Grandma and Grandpa can hear you to why you shouldn't waste your money on things that don't matter; from why you need up "Get Off Your Rear End!" to why "You Can't Leave This House Looking Like That!" 

Do any of you Gentle Readers have other suggestions for books on manners for kids (or adults)? If so, please share them with us all by leaving a comment here or sending a message to{ellemadame} [at]}. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: QUIDDITY

Madame L loves this Latin word meaning the "whatness" or the essence of a person, though she has never used it in a sentence and probably never will, at least in a spoken sentence.

And the only way Madame L can think of to use it in a written sentence is by expanding on the definition: 

According to Wikipedia, the word "quiddity" describes "properties that a particular substance (e.g. a person) shares with others of its kind." It was used by medieval philosophers in contrast with "haecceity," the "thisness" of a person, what makes it unique. 

"Quiddity" is also the name of a public radio program and literary journal which encourages poets and other writers from all over the world to share their work. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, June 3, 2012: The Penderwicks at Pont Mouette

Yes, Madame L knows this is Tuesday, not Sunday, and she apologizes for being so late with this review. No excuses, and no complaints. 

The third of Jeanne Birdsall's books about the Penderwicks is as charming as the first two, and Madame L recommends it highly. Check out all three from the library and start with the first one---not that you wouldn't enjoy them out of order, but because you'll want to get the whole story from the beginning.

Or buy all three in paperback and them pass them along to a friend. (They're all available from for $6.99 or $7.99.) Though they're written for kids around the ages of 9 to 12, older kids and adults will also enjoy them.

In order, they are:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy 

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

Madame L can't tell you much about the plot of the "Point Mouette" book because that would spoil your fun. She can tell you, though, that the four sisters and their dog and their absent-minded-professor dad and the "very interesting boy" from the first book and another boy from the first book and some other new characters all help the Penderwick sisters grow up and learn important lessons about life. 
Sorry, that sounds so boring, doesn't it. Trying again: All these marvelous, spirited, fun characters help the girls have a great time! They do learn some important lessons, and they do grow up a little more, as they've been doing in the previous books, but that's not the point. 

Oh, just read the three books. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Venus Transit

On Tuesday, June 5, if you live anywhere in North America, you should be able to see at least part of the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun.

The show will start just after 3:00 pm on the west coast. Watching at the very beginning and very end will prove most satisfying, according to astronomers, because at those times the movement of Venus will be more obvious than when it's going across the middle.

Don't look at the sun directly, of course! Use welder's glasses (No. 14) or some other safe filter. 

Here's an image from NASA of what you might see:

NASA will be answering questions during the event.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Grammar, Shmammar

Dear Madame L,

What's with all the stuff about grammar and punctuation? As if you think you know more than anyone else! As if people who don't write the same way you do are somehow inferior! 

Give me a break,

Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

Dear Descriptive,

Madame Elle gets that you're actually quite the grammarian, yourself; and cedes you this point:

Using the standard or correct forms of grammar and punctuation does not make Madame Elle, or you, or anyone, superior to those who do not use those forms. 

However, it makes us all more readable and understandable to each other. In fact, it sometimes makes a legal difference, as in the use of commas. (Madame L will write more about the use of commas in legalese, or what she sometimes calls Legalish, in a future post.)

If you want to read a lengthy article by the renowned linguist Steven Pinker on this very topic (Wait! You, "Descriptive, Not Prescriptive," HAVE read it, haven't you! That's what prompted you to write your letter. Is Madame L correct about that?), go for it. 

If you don't want to read that lengthy article, Madame L hereby summarizes it for you:  

     ---While so-called and self-proclaimed grammarians throughout the history of the modern English language have claimed to know what is correct and have taken great glee in correcting those who don't write correctly (these are the prescriptive grammarians), more contemporary grammar experts have been more interested in describing the way people actually speak and write (these are the descriptive grammarians). 

     ---Pinker himself, as the ultimate expert (in part because he is a Harvard linguistics professor), can parse any sentence, decipher any treatise, and dethrone any claimant to the throne of linguistic expert; and he does all that in the essay. 

     ---He's king of the linguistics mountain, winner of the so-called "language wars," and when people think otherwise it's only because they're ignorant, uneducated, misinformed, and/or presumptuous. Pinker even dares make fun of Strunk & White!

Madame L thinks George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language," covers all the important points, and does it better, than anything Pinker et al. have ever written. Madame L will share Orwell's essay with all her Dear and Gentle Readers in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, Madame L hopes you'll continue to use the language correctly, not because it will make you feel superior to or appear smarter than your fellow human beings but because it will help you be understood bettter by them.


Madame L