Monday, May 13, 2002

Philip Howard cracks me up.

Dear Sir: I have worked in an investment bank in the US for the last two years. A large portion of my day is spent writing e-mails to people within the firm. I find it extremely difficult to change my S's to Z's in words such as "organise", which becomes "organize" here. The recipients of my correspondence are invariably American. What is the proper thing to do? Should I change all my English to American English? Jessica Laskar, Atlanta, Georgia

The useless letter Zee is on its way out even in England. The "rule" is that if an Enlish word is, or could be, derived from a Greek verb ending in -izo, it takes the Zed in English. But, a word like "analyse", which comes from Greek "analusis", "analuein" (no Z) to loose. Stays "analyses". Infuriatingly, Americans tend to spell analyze unetymologically with a Zed. But this is a distinction without a difference. Many style books, including that of The Times, have given up -ize verbs. Do the same. This is a form of "correct" spelling that is barking mad.

Dear Sir: One of my neighbours is English, and I have been trying to get to know him, in a friendly way, for ages. He is terribly shy (or possibly terribly British) and has so far bravely resisted my invitations for coffee. Trouble is, from our brief conversations, I've realised he would make an excellent friend, so how do I make it clear to him I want him as a friend and not a boyfriend? Linda Hennesy, Dublin

Persevere. The English can be very shy. They do not have the warmth or the love of goss and parties of the Irish. I should let the fact that you want him as a friend not a boyfriend emerge naturally in your conversations. If you state it explicitly you may frighten him away to Iceland. The English are slow. But they can be good friends. But you must not assume that you can bend him to your will. He may just be antisocial as well as timid. Keep on being friendly.

Being something of a homosexual, I find myself wondering whether there exists a polite way to inform acquaintances of my orientation, when - as often happens - they ask the inevitable "so do you have a girlfriend?" or similar. I am in my early twenties and do not want to appear either an activist or simply rude, but I do object to heterosexism. Is it better to leave the matter, laugh it off maybe with a polite "ha ha, no", or should I gently correct their mistake? Name and address withheld

There is nothing to be ashamed of in being "something" of a homosexual. Past unhappy and shameful history have made it a love that dares not speak its name. But today you can wear your sexual orientation with pride. In the desperate overpopulation of the world, the more homosexuals the better. To the young and liberal you can say, "I'm gay." To the old and bigoted, when they ask whether you have a girl friend: "No. I'm not that way inclined." Do not pander to the prejudices of the bigots by appearing to be ashamed of your sexual nature.

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