Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2004 / 3 Kislev, 5765
A bit fuzzy about critters and varmints; booking passage on freighters to northern Europe; grand jury and regularones; more
Q: Recently while out to dinner with friends (from Pennsylvania), my husband (Alabama) and I (Kentucky) were discussing the distinction between a critter and a varmit. Your thoughts? - Dru Quarles, Charlotte, N.C.
A: Dru, I (Tennessee), see it this way:
A critter is any animal you are not currently mad at. Our furry friends in the woods, for instance. Bambi, Thumper, Flower - critters all.
A varmint (the preferred spelling) is any animal you ARE currently mad at. The raccoon that got into the garbage and made a mess, say. Varmint often seems to be preceded by "low-down." Women sometimes refer to men as varmints. I cannot fathom why.
The experts appear to back me up. Critter is "a pronunciation spelling of creature," says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and the most common meaning is simply an animal, whether wild or domestic.
Varmint, however, is a corruption of "vermin," John Russell Bartlett wrote in his 1848 "Dictionary of Americanisms." Varmints are said to be "noxious wild beasts." The man Bartlett quoted there to help establish the word's meaning? Davy Crockett, who was writing about shooting varmints. (He, of course, was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee.)
Q: I am completely burned-out on air travel. Do you know where I can find information online about booking passage on freighters to northern Europe? - Haskel Henderson, Virginia
A: Haskel, I'm with ya. As I get older and wider (that's not a typo), I get more claustrophobic about flying. A little sea air and sense of adventure would sure beat getting jostled around and packed in and told to return to my seat.
But taking a freighter might not be as easy as you think. Transatlantic passage can take a month, because many cargo stops are often made. And while the living conditions are said to be comfortable, a freighter doesn't boast the diversions and luxury of a cruise. Check it out for yourself at these informative Web pages:
Q: I've been wondering for years about this: What exactly is a grand jury and how is it different from a regular jury? - Marty Fox, Charlotte
A: A grand jury is selected and sworn in by a court, just like a trial jury. In fact, grand jurors are usually chosen from the same pool that provides trial jurors. But:
Grand juries may sit for longer. In the federal system, a grand jury can sit for up to 36 months. State grand juries vary, but may sit for up to a year.
Grand jurors don't convene every day. Many federal grand juries sit only one day a week. A state grand jury might sit twice a month.
Grand juries don't decide if someone is guilty of criminal charges. Grand juries hear evidence and decide if someone should be charged with a crime.
You can find out more online at:
Q: If you are trying to fail at something, and you actually succeed, what have you really done? - Anonymous
A: OK now, lemme get my head around this. It appears to me that what you have done is: failed to fail. Which is not really the same as succeeding - even though you succeeded at this task - since your success was the result of your failure to fail.
No wonder you didn't include your name.
Isn't this the story of "The Producers," where they set out to make a Broadway bomb, but it becomes a smash hit?
Anybody else have ideas on this?
Q: What is 111,111,111 multiplied by 111,111,111?
A: I'm going to let you look into that yourselves, because the answer's very cool. So bust out that calculator.
On music ...
1. What Australian heavy metal band sang of "dirty deeds done dirt cheap"?
2. What British punk band put out the smash album "London Calling"?
3. Martin Scorcese's movie "The Last Waltz" centered on what group?
4. Buddy Holly got the song title "That'll Be the Day" from John Wayne's repeated line in what movie?
5. Who wrote "Me and Bobby McGee"?
2. The Clash
3. The Band
4. "The Searchers"
5. Kris Kristofferson
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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.
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