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October 10, 1999 - Listener Questions - 2002-02-06

INTRO: This week our Wordmasters answer some of your questions.

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble.

RS: This is she. Or should I have said, this is her?

AA: That's a question asked by Bikash, Nirmal and Manoj -- three students in Birgunj, Nepal.

RS: They e-mailed us, wanting to know which is correct: "this is her" or "this is she."

AA: It's grammatically correct to say, "This is she." So if someone asks for you on the telephone, you would answer:

RS: "This is she, this is Rosanne," although grammarian and author Pat O'Conner tells us that in common usage these days it's considered more natural to say, "This is her."

AA: We asked Pat O'Conner for the rules about using "she" and "her" in sentences.


"The thing to remember about `she' and `her' is that `she' does the action and `her' is the one acted upon, as in `she spoke to her,' `I spoke to her,' `he spoke to her,' `she spoke to him' - that sort of thing. One little hint there is the object, the `her' person, will usually come at the end of a phrase, rather than at the beginning, and the `she' will usually come first."

RS: Chen Ying, a listener at the Hangzhou Foreign Language School in China has another question.

The letter says: "I'm puzzled by the slang [phrase] `Not until the fat lady sings.' What does it mean and how is it used?"

AA: OK, think of a typical opera. How does the audience know when the end is near? RS: There's a dramatic aria by the soprano.

AA: Now we don't usually think of opera singers as tending toward the skinny side.

RS: So you could say - to use the slang vernacular -- "it ain't over till the fat lady sings."

No offense intended!

AA: Pat O'Conner told us that expression is often traced to a 1978 story in the Washington Post...

RS: ... written not by opera critic, but by a sports writer.


"He was using it in terms of a [base]ball game, meaning you don't give up until the last inning. You don't just toss up your hands and give up a game until it's over."

AA: Patricia O'Conner is just out with a new book.

It's called "Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing."

RS: Two weeks ago, we reported on a decision in El Cenizo, Texas, to adopt Spanish as an official language for town business. But the decision to use Spanish has been widely criticized - mostly by people who don't live in El Cenizo.

AA: Doug Shannon, a computer programmer in San Antonio, Texas, saw our script on the Web site. He says our story - in his words -- "sympathized exclusively with the El Cenizo authorities."


"My concern is that when authorities give a disincentive to learning English, any kind of official disincentive, it's the slippery slope theory, where it's going to make children less likely to learn that language. And in a time when you have a large and growing gap between the rich and the poor, I think that any disincentive to learning the language that is being used in all sorts of high-tech engineering jobs, could just exacerbate that gap."

RS: Doug Shannon says he's not anti-Spanish - in fact, the language spoken in his home is Spanish. His wife is from Mexico.

AA: Whatever language you speak at home, we'd love to hear from you. If we read your letter on Wordmaster, we'll send you a VOA souvenir - just remember to tell us where to send it! RS: Our e-mail address is and our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington, D.C., 20547 USA.

AA: With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti

MUSIC: "Return to Sender"