Our Flabby Language V

Picking up from last week:  From Rumspeak to Sufferin’ Suffixes:

  • Rumspeak. The first month or so our venerable Secretary of Defense played illocutionary dodgeball with the press—that is, before we actually knew he was lying—it was entertaining. Now—since every other Beltway Bonehead and anyone else with intent to evade has picked it up—this “set ‘em up and knock ‘em down” rhetorical question nonsense is beyond annoying. “Will I ignore your inquiry, substitute my own self-serving solipsism, and answer it myself to prevent the transfer of a single fact? Well, Golly Wollickers—you betcha I will!” Back it up, Bonzo—you can’t work both ends of the bowling alley at once.
  • Same Exact(and vice versa). Dog puppy. See also “actual fact,” “true facts,” and “substantially (or virtually) identical.” Don’t forget “exact same” and its country cousin, “whole entire.” Here’s a serviceable list of words that cannot be improved upon with an adjective,comparative or otherwise:
alone blind dead deadly empty everlasting fatal
final full mortal perfect pregnant round single
square straight supreme unique universal vertical wrong

Think about it. “This glass is more full than that one” makes no sense; nor does “This glass is fuller than that one,” even though it sounds better. It’s the definition that counts. Here’s a memory anchor: “little bit pregnant.” Folks say, “more pregnant” when they mean “farther along” or “closer to delivery.” In closing: “factual error.” Say it. Ponder it. Repeat, as necessary. Unless you mean “honest mistake,” either drop the adjective or substitute your choice: “lie” or, simply, “mistake.” Lastly, and I quote: “very major.”

  • Scandal. Journalistic code for publication bragging rights of any kind of alleged wrongdoing, no matter how trivial and regardless of context or the identity and reliability of sources. “Scandal” means “We broke the story! Who cares if it’s accurate—we have two sources and we’re first!” “Breaking” or “burgeoning scandal” means “We got scooped so we’re covering those who broke the story.” “Growing scandal” means “We’re really slugs so all we can do is cover those who are covering those who broke the story.” And so on.
  • Service, please! Not a verb; you do not “service” your customers—unless you’re a male, quadruped beastie of some sort and your handlers are paid to share your—um, fertility. Years ago, a United States Senator who was by training a veterinarian used a 39-inch yardstick as a campaign gimmick. It carried the slogan, “John Melcher—an extra measure of service!” His opponents were heard to remark, “Yeah—ask any veterinarian what ‘service’ means.”
  • Sheesh(ka), Bob! “Skew” vs. “skewer;” No. 1 is to miss the mark or knock off-kilter, as in data, conclusions, or sundry objects, and No. 2 is to puncture, as in concepts, ideas, or tenderly-marinated vegetable and meat bits. “He skewered the notion that the data was skewed.” As a noun, the latter is the puncturing thingy. “His hat askew, he fashioned shiskabobs, using skewers.”


  • Showing off. “It pays to increase your word power” is intended to encourage adding to the vocabulary savings account, not an invitation to spend syllables and reduce meaning. Don’t tax others with your bogus erudition. Don’t spend a buck when a nickel (look it up) will do. Can there be any possible justification for assemblages like “commonsensical” as a “smarter” substitute for “sensible?” I live in California, which is Ground Zero for language inflation; here, “Low Bridge” becomes “Impaired Vertical Clearance.” Roadway bumps that mate are called “Undulations.” (If you’re going to indulge, be creative like the constabulary in Jamaica, where speed bumps have been christened “Sleeping Policemen.”) You can only imagine why our Legislature requires every public entrance to a business establishment—and you know they’re not emergency exits, because those are clearly marked for that purpose—to carry this legend: “These doors to remain open during business hours.” And “guerrilla fighting” no longer covers it, apparently, for our military strategists, flacks, and “embedded” journalists (“Hey! Can somebody pull this reporter outta my ass? Please?”) it’s become “asymmetrical warfare.” Say again? Here’s my current favorite among the gases National Public Radio pumps into corporate contributors. This particular patron is “dedicated to advancing entrepreneurship across America.” “Shopkeepers…HOOOOOOOO!” (Whips crack; oxen strain; wheels creak; merchants slog.)
  • Shutter the Hell up! Unless you’re decorating your windows with louvered rectangles, or closing the utilitarian ones already there to protect the glass from high winds or pelting rain, what you really mean is “closed,” “shut,” or “shut down.” The regional recession hasn’t “shuttered” 16 factories.
  • Sides. Another fine contribution from stylin’ sports anchors seems to be the wholesale replacement of “adjacent,” “beside,” “near,” or “next to” by “alongside.” (“Hey. Whuzzup – this is Biff Martinspleen, alongside Bernie Muckenfuch, and give it up for ‘Sports Junction.’ Booyah. In the house. Yard.”) I read an otherwise fine piece by Walter Cronkite on the op-ed page the other day and there it was – say it ain’t so, Uncle Walter! (Okay; he deserves a little slack because he’s a lifelong sailor, but I choose to believe some muttonheaded copy editor did it.) Needless to say, I was, uh, beside myself.
  • [Singular]/Their.” As in, “Every child should have their book.” This is another of the poisonous fruits of political correctness. How about exalting both genders to preserve uniformity of tense? “Every boy and girl should have his and her book.” What happened to the other acceptable compromise of swinging between male and female to even things out? “God made us to love and serve Her.” Who’s going to object? (Other than the Reverends Falwell and Robertson and their ilk, who have become sublimely irrelevant out of their own mouths, anyway.)
  • Sport.” When I was a kid, applying some spur of the moment rules to a random activity involving a bike, skateboard, or other appliance to burn time and – incidentally — calories was—well, “playing.” Participation using implements without breaking a sweat—or that wasn’t really all that challenging aerobically—was always a “game.” “Sport” was—and to me still is—synonymous with “athletics.” This is the accepted international meaning. Though football, basketball, tennis, and baseball are played by athletes, they are games—and as far as I’m concerned, the jury’s out on baseball players; are long intervals of standing, spitting, and adjusting, punctuated by infrequent bursts of physical exertion, a sport? (Word has it that John Kruk was coming out of a grocery store with a cigarette hanging out of this mouth, to be upbraided by a mother for being a poor role model for youth as an athlete. “Hey, lady,” he is said to have objected. “I’m not an athlete; I’m a ballplayer!” See? Johnny Kruk gets it!) Golf is a game, Goddamnit. Sure—Tiger Woods is an athlete because he trains as one, which is one of the reasons he is so superior. Look at Craig Stadler; gimme a break.
  • Sufferin’ suffixes! Another form of obnoxious shorthand, especially among journalists (see “Islamist”), is to take a serviceable noun and add a suffix to create a label or category that is just as capable of misinterpretation as understanding. “Abortionist” is particularly insidious. “Consumerist” for “consumer advocate,” for example, when the latter is already sloppy enough. (For that matter, when did materialism, hedonism, covetessness, or just plain old greed become “consumerism?”) We in Sacramento are fortunate to have a political columnist who has ratcheted this practice up to “istas,” as in “Consumeristas.” He’s also responsible for “fictional propaganda”—as opposed to the true kind—and “public at large”—the public not yet in custody. Wow; may I bear your young?

Next Week: Swirling to the bitter end, and possibly penance.

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