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Matt: Does San Diego’s hard water cause any problems in a person’s body? Sometimes when I’m forced to drink tap water, it’s like drinking Clorox and rocks. I mean, people aren’t dropping left and right from drinking water, but are there long-term problems? — Tom, via email

Maybe if you drink too many of Grandma’s Cleantinis (aka Granitinis). She shakes ’em with tap-water cubes especially for the aftertaste. Otherwise, we scoured our sources (with biodegradable cleanser, of course) and we think your pipes are pretty safe. Biologically speaking, anyway, maybe not plumbingologically. You see, Tom, we live in a hard-water area. Heard that one before? Water that makes it to our taps has flowed over, around, and through such stuff as limestone, maybe chalk, maybe iron. Maybe other stuff. And ions of calcium, magnesium, and whatnot peel off into our water. Yes, we’s got rocks in our water. Good for us! Good for us?! you ask-claim? (The ?! is an ask-clamation mark.) Yes, good for us.

Because water is so basic to all life around the globe, don’t be surprised that many, many organizations have their thumbs on the pulse of our plumbing. And absolutely no testing organization or ecology group has suggested that hard water builds up calcium layers in our digestive tracts the way it does in the household pipes and water heaters. Hard water doesn’t even build up any gravelly junk in our bloodstreams!

Oh, yeah. The lucky-duck part about having hard water... First, it might, just maybe, help lower the incidence of cardiovascular problems. Scientists are wavery on this point. But lucky duck the second is that hard water is alkaline; so-called “soft” water is acid. Tests show that acidic water can etch metal pipes, and stuff like lead and copper end up in the water system.

But wait. Let’s be fair about this. Many of my statistical numerical factoidlets are from the World Health Organization. Check in with our own EPA, and they don’t even set hardness or pH levels for drinking water. (They do, however, suggest that pH 6.5–8.0 would be best. Midpoint in the scale is 7, so note how the EPA has a secret fondness for hard water. Yay for us.)

So, Tom, if you’ve stopped fretting about your Clorox water and maybe are beginning to sweat out, oh, seawater, maybe? Seawater’s pH is a toe-breaking 8.3. Milk? 6.4. Beer? 4.5, average. Human blood, for any of you leftover Hallo-wieners, about 7.5 pH. And, leading doctors agree, the human body does a terrific job of keeping its own pH in line, no matter what you might drink.

Matthew: What is the best question you have ever been asked? Also, how do you feel about parentheses? — Frequent Caller, University City

Mr. Alice: When I get to the end of this sentence, why will I use a question mark? — !, @ home

Onceuponatimealltextlookedlikethis. Easy to write, no fun to read. Of course, before we had punctuation, someone had to invent at least the space between words. First things first. So, once that was handled, a Greek librarian on one slow day, with nothing to do but roll manuscripts down the hall, devised a system of marks to help lecturers properly read texts aloud. (Maybe a library student intern? Sick of listening to professors going, “Onceupo natime alltex…, er, koff, koff, harumph, I mean, On ceuponat I meal.…”?) I digress. Punctuation began as a guide for speakers to properly read texts aloud, not as a guide for readers or for something to get wrong on English tests.

Originally, one dot meant a short pause, two a medium pause, and three, you could go out for a sandwich. Soon the period, colon, and semicolon were not enough. Someone invented the / (virgule), indicating a very quick pause, which mutated into our comma. By the 12th Century, tired of inventing things, scribes began to borrow from musical notation in Gregorian chants. One mark, a sort of seven with a dot under it, told a chanter to elevate his intonation at the end of a phrase, as a speaker does when asking a question. Parentheses were added in the 1400s; and apparently no one exclaimed before the 1700s (!).

So, how do I feel about parentheses? Regular visitors know I’m fascinated by their power and simplicity. A writer can proclaim any nonsense as long as it’s encased in parens. And readers know they can skip it. Nothing in parentheses was ever on a final exam.

Best question? “Where, exactly, Matthew, would you like us to mail your very large check?”

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Matthew_Alice Nov. 7, 2009 @ 7:11 p.m.

Yeah. Ask-clamation. Not quite as good as "cute-manteau," though. Well done, SD.


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