When Gilbert Sanchez was president of Highlands University, his office routinely presented some attractive lapel pins to employees who had also graduated from there. That included a large number of us.
When I received mine, I asked Sanchez whether I needed to share it with another, my wife maybe. “Why?” “Well, the pin had the word ‘alumni.’”
So? “Well, alumni means more than one,” I answered. It’s those pesky words of Latin or Greek origin that confuse us English, non-Latin, non-Greek speakers. Those words, with their inflectional endings require us to say “gymnasia” for more than one gymnasium, or — better yet — a gym. Period.
It’s easier to say “cactuses” than “cacti.” And, on the subject of strange endings, the city of Emporia, Kan., means just a bunch of large stores. And Des Moines means “some monks.” But that’s French; let’s stick to Latin and Greek. Even in the august academic setting of Highlands University, we still hear people asking, “What is the criteria?” As we (should) know, “criteria” is plural, and it should be “criterion,” unless we wish to recast the sentence and ask, “What are the criteria?”
Asked if I’m an alumni of Highlands, I’m tempted to answer, “Yes, I are.” But really, I’m an alumnus and my wife is an alumna.
We’re still not out of the woods. When someone says he’s an alumnus of Highlands, I want to ask, “When did you graduate?” But not so fast. Even though many believe that alumnus identifies a graduate, that’s not necessarily the case. An alumnus can be anyone who merely attended college, even for a short while.
I didn’t broach that little factoid to the alumni-pin-awarding Sanchez, back in 1990, as I noticed his supply was low, and to provide one to every alumnus might have been a tad expensive.
Even in newspaper writing, we often see the use of “alum,” a lazy way of avoiding the dictionary. So, to review: alumni means more than one, generally males but mixed doubles are acceptable; alumnus means one, usually a male graduate; alumna stands for a female graduate, and — get this — alumnae means more than one female.
Notice there are a number of license plate frames bearing a university name and the word “alumni.” And since alumni is a plural form, the frame ought to be attached only to two-seater autos or bicycles built for two.
Let’s move on. Is this argument getting ridiculous? No, these arguments are becoming ridiculi.
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More people are finding caches of Wite-Out to help me insert a missing comma from the new Highlands license plates. The latest offer came from Wendy Quintana, an assistant in the University Public Information Department. She claims to have all the correction fluid I need. With rain and hail pelting the plate during our monsoon season, I expect to become supplicant on many occasions. I hope Wendy really has enough of the stuff.
When I got my Highlands plate, I placed it under the dealer license frame, then summoned my boss, David Giuliani, to admire the handiwork. Well, neither “Go Cowboys” nor “New Mexico Highlands” was visible, their having been obscured by the thick borders of the dealer frame.
So I replaced the frame, and now all is in plain sight.
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We used to have a teacher at Highlands who would slip a plastic frame over our term papers. If even one character on any page jutted into the frame, that meant a failing grade. Sure, it’s great to have strict standards, but many of us students in that class reasoned that the prof didn’t really care how well or poorly we wrote — as long as we used wide-enough margins.
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“Cache,” pronounced “cash,” often refers to a stashed, often hidden, quantity of money, jewels, ammunition or drugs. “Cache” is not pronounced “cashay,” and certainly not “sashay,” which we heard last week on local radio.
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A friend e-mailed me a list of common expressions, from an Internet language site, ArcaMax. How many you can identify?
1. Scintillate, scintillate, asteroid exiguous.
2. Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.
3. Surveillance should precede saltations.
4. Pulchritude possesses solely cutaneous profundity.
5. It is fruitless to become lachrymose over precipitately departed lacteal fluid.
6. Freedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to rectitude.
7. The stylus is more potent than the claymore.
8. It is fruitless to attempt to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers.
9. Eschew the implement of correction and vitiate the scion.
10. The temperature of the aqueous content of an unremittingly ogled saucepan does not does reach 212 F’.
11. All articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous.
12. Where there are visible vapors in ignited carbonaceous material, there is conflagration.
Submit your answers to my e-mail address by Monday noon, and feel free to add your own.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.