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Last Words - Along Parallel Lines
by Alec McEwen

MARGIN OF ERROR. A Calgary Herald columnist named the 49th parallel "the longest undefended border in the world." Even those who are not yet weary of that long-running, indefensible cliche may wonder why a synecdochic parallel of latitude Should be taken to represent the entire length of the Canada-United States boundary, when it actually forms less than one-quarter of the to all distance. Why quibbIe about an expression that is merely symbolic? Well, for one thing, most resident Canadians live south of the 49th parallel. It would make more sense to use the 45th parallel as the border representative. Shorter but very much older than its fellow circular arc that lies nearly 300 miles to the north, the 45th-parallel boundary segment originated during the pre-Revolutionary War period when it separated the then British provinces of Quebec and New York.


DEPLOY. A Canadian police canine manual use' throughout the book the verb deploy to denote the positioning of a single dog for surveillance or tracking purposes. deploy,from the French deployer, to spread out or unfold, properly applies to quantities of personnel or resources, as in the deployment of troops to form a line advancing over a wide area. When Charles Dickens, in Dombey and Son, described Louisa Chick as "constantly deploying" into the church aisle during her nephew's christening, he wrote humorously Without close attention to grammar, just as his title our Mutual Friend is colloquial but perhaps not strictIy correct. Usage changes with time, but applying deploy to an individual person is grammatically akin to urging that person to regroup and make a concerted effort.


HAWKS AND HANDSAWS. A Books in Canada reviewer accused a person responsible for poor photographic reproduction Of not having "known a hawk from a handsaw." When Hamlet claimed the ability to make that distinction as proof of his sanity, at least while the wind blew from the south, lie simply meant that be could tell one thing from another. The puzzling juxtaposition of two apparently, unrelated objects led to the Conjecture that handsaw was a misprint for hernshaw, one of the spelling variants of heron. Although this association of two birds, seems plausible, another explanation may he that the prince was distinguishing between two builder's tools, for a hawk is the rectanguIar board, mounted on a handle, on which a plasterer holds mortar. The OED gives the year 1700 as the earliest occasion it can find when hawk was used in the sense of an artisan's piece of equipment, but that alone does not disprove the word's usage in that sense in Shakespeare's day.


CAESAR'S WIFE. The British Columbia government's decision to launch two inquiries concerning the Clayoquot timber licences prompted a Financial Post columnist to remark that it "Chose to be purer than Caesar's Wife." Pompeia, Julius Caesar's second wife, may have been pure Kit She was not above Suspicion. She was accused of intriguing with Clodius to enable him, disguised as a woman, to attend a religious ceremony from which men were always excluded. Because of this scandal Caesar divorced her, even though lie was not convinced of her guilt.


ENJOIN, OBTUSE. A Calgary Herald editorial, commenting on the dispute between Canada's two major airlines, referred to "the battle no", enjoined" as each side tells its "convoluted, obtuse story" to the

public. Enjoin means to urge, prohibit, or command. Despite their etymological connection, enjoin and join are not synonymous, and the correct expression is joined in battle. Although obtuse is often used colloquially to describe something that is difficult to understand, it is more properly applied, in a non-mathematical sense, to human impairment, such as dullness, insensitivity, or poor hearing. Perhaps the airlines' stories were obscure or abstruse, either of which can he easily confused with obtuse.


DIPLOMATIC LANGUAGE. According to the Financial Post, the Norwegian environment minister blamed Britain for producing, Sulphur dioxide emissions that damaged his country's forests and lakes, and denounced his British Counterpart as a drittsekk over the issue. Politely translated, the Norwegian epithet means a bag of excrement. Its English equivalent originally meant the human belly, but it has been used since the late 1700s to describe an unpleasant person. The British minister's response is not recorded but lie probably hit the roof, if not the fan.


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