MARTHA SEZ: ‘Cows don’t care what time Old MacDonald’s cellphone reads’

The California wildfires are terrorizing me. They are changing my sleep patterns, flaring up in the back of my mind even when I’m focusing on other things, consuming my attention, taking up all the oxygen so that I can’t think straight. People I love live there.

Not that I’m trying to upstage actual California residents, who obviously have more reason to worry than I do.

I want to tell them: Get out of there! When I watch the news, it looks to me as if the whole state is on fire, but then California is a big state. It’s hard to see the whole picture from across the continent.


Meanwhile, back in the North Country, we have snow on both sides of the road rather than fire. I don’t like winter driving, but, under the circumstances, snow-covered pine boughs look rather soothing.

So here we are, dumped back into ordinary time for the winter, which, by the way, is only just beginning. We have about six months to go. Now that we’ve dispensed with daylight-saving time, it’s nice to have the sun come up earlier in the morning, but not so good to have darkness fall by the time we get out of work. Only a little more than a month to go before the winter solstice. After that the days will stop shrinking and then begin to lengthen by infinitesimally small increments every (shiver!) day.

But who’s complaining?

Well, clearly, I am. I will take advantage of this opportunity to be cranky about language.

Every year, I want to use the common expression “Daylight Savings,” as if we were discussing a bank: Daylight Savings & Loan. Then, twice a year, I look it up in my handy “Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual,” and read “daylight-saving time. Not Savings. Note the hyphen … lowercase daylight-saving in all instances.”

This section goes on to state that “A federal law, administered by the Transportation Department, specifies that daylight time applies from 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April until 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.”

This is not actually the case, by the way, and, as far as I’m concerned, it all seems pretty random. For example, we just changed over on Nov. 4.

Some maintain that the time change is meant to benefit farmers, to which I say, since when do cows carry watches? Cows don’t care what time Old MacDonald’s cellphone reads. They just want to be milked when their udders are full. The sun and moon rise and set as usual, whatever time we happen to assign. You know? Cows have always seemed to me irrelevant in discussions of daylight-saving time.

Please don’t feel as if you are walking on eggs around me when it comes to correct word usage. Even though it’s true that I am an English major as well as a librarian, I am not one of those people who bristles when she hears a colloquialism. Not so’s you’d notice.

By the way, the expression is “walking on eggs,” not “walking on eggshells,” the way most people would have it nowadays. Just saying.

Also, the fact that I don’t have Thanksgiving nailed down does not mean that I am “behind the eight ball.”

I hear people saying that someone who is falling behind is behind the eight ball. Actually, a person behind the eight ball is in a hazardous position from which there is no escape, according to “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.” Just so you know.

Also, people get mixed up over homing in and honing in. To hone is to sharpen or refine, or, in some dialects, to yearn for or to whine.

Newscasters lately are using the word singular when they mean single, probably thinking that it sounds fancier. Singular refers to something unique or particular, or to something exceptionally good. You also hear them speaking of the enormity of a thing when referring to something big, like, say, an elephant. Enormity actually refers to grave sin, evil, or wrongdoing on an extreme scale. Elephants are not like that.

I really can’t afford to be too cranky about language, since I make mistakes myself. Hard to believe, I know. For example, I always assumed that the expression butt naked was an incorrect way of saying buck naked. When I looked it up, however, I found that butt naked, vulgar as it may be, might be the original. Hmph.

Have a good week.