More Wordplay

Here’s some fun wordplay to shake your brain around. Open a new document, close your eyes and type the FIRST WORD or PHRASE that comes into your head that starts with A.  Add a space after it and immediately type the first word that comes into your head that starts with B. Keep going. Don’t think, just type the first thing that pops into your head. Don’t worry about skipping letters or repeating themes or patterns. Do as many rounds as you want until you start to feel giddy and brazen, or until you are typing random strings of letters that, while spelling a fine and even heroic word in Old Norse, couldn’t pass for English in any subculture of the English-speaking world. Here are some of mine:

androgyny Battista California Denmark England first gunfight hostage indescribable  jackass  Kalamazoo  meddle  Nancy Reagan  Oscar the Grouch  proofreader  question  Rastafarian  Satan  Tony Award  underling  West Coast  X-Ray  yellow fever  Zulu

apple beast  chastity  devil  equine  festive ghostly harridan  internal  Jason Ritter  Kraft Macaroni and Cheese  Louisiana  manatee  nuts  open  Pasha  queue  root beer  seditious  truck  undervalue  vestigal  wiggle room  xenon  yowl  zither

androgynous  Babylon  carrot  dolomite  elephant  Fashion Week  ghastly  horrific  indescribable  jackal  kickball  locomotive  Mouseketeer  nicety  opinionated  pup  query  rendezvous  storyline  trackball  underling  vast  worldly  Xerxes  Yahtzee  Zabar’s

ask better cherry dogma estuary flash gerund hello indolence jasmine Kremlin lollipop mastodon nevermore opine pistachio querulous rotund stalagmite truculent undermine veronica wishbone Xavier yesterday zephyr

Want to give it a try? Let’s see some of yours!

One Man’s Freedom Fighter Is Another Man’s Antisecrecy Group

Listen to the news sometime. I mean, really listen, beyond the sound bytes, hairstyles, and the cringe-worthy way some of them pronounce “often” and “inundated.” Or that one American network that thinks we’re so stupid, a world map graphic is now used to show where each news story is occurring, even those in large US cities. Try to catch the way anchors, correspondents, and political officials pronounce the names of countries. Take note of the adjectives used to describe potentially inflammatory individuals, situations, or groups. It’s really fascinating. Can you imagine the groupthink that went into those decisions? I see a bunch of suits in a room, bandying about various phrases, cringing in anticipation of the angry letters they might get if certain terms are used. It’s lead to some interesting tweaks of the English lexicon.

For instance, my Journalism 101 professor, who looked exactly like J. Jonah Jameson, said the word “try” is a big tip-off to media bias. As in, “The president tried to rally foreign leaders to get behind his peace agreement.” Meaning, “Our editorial slant is that we disapprove of the president and hope his flawed, imprudent agreement fails.”

But that’s old news. With a 24-hour news cycle, who has time for subtlety?

How newscasters and politicians pronounce the names of Latin American and Middle Eastern countries is also a clue. The late Peter Jennings, Canadian by birth, suddenly became Latino when he had to say “Nicaragua” or “Ecuador.” It’s silly, really, a politically correct nod to our neighbors to the south, whom I’m sure are lovely people, but probably wouldn’t mind if we pronounced their countries’ names with our American accents. Do you hear that on the BBC? I don’t think so. Listen now, as President Obama pronounces “Pakistan.” PAH-ki-stahn. Are you guessing that news outlets rooting for his failure probably doesn’t pronounce it that way?

Certain terms are also buzzwords pointing to editorial slant. Remember Ronald Reagan? (Google it, kids.) Remember his dealings with the Nicaraguan Contras? This band of fighters resisted the Sandinista government that took control after dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown in 1979. Taking a cue from the French Resistance in World War II, the contras were called “freedom fighters” by the CIA and the Reagan administration. The contras themselves preferred to be known as “commandos.” And I’m pretty sure the Sandinistas (and those on the American left who supported them) didn’t call the Contras “freedom fighters.” Probably more along the lines of “rebel scum.”

The US media had a little tussle with itself after 9/11, about the use of “terrorist,” an emotionally charged word that was often applied indiscriminately to refer to people who weren’t “actual” terrorists. This led to terms like “enemy combatant,” which the Obama Administration dissed in 2009.

And now, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has journalists scratching their heads again. Some outlets debated the use of “whistleblower,” and if Assange is truly thus. The New York Times now calls WikiLeaks an “antisecrecy group.” Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden call him a terrorist. So now, one man’s terrorist is another man’s antisecrecy advocate. Just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

What euphemisms have you heard rolling off the tongues of those on the news? How do you think we should pronounce Pakistan? Join the discussion!

Sling A Little Slang

I’ve always loved listening to the music of language, especially those words and phrases outside the tidy boundaries of Merriam-Webster. Somewhere in the Exurban Dictionary of my brain, I filed them away, the associated gray matter swelling with each new person I met and each new place I visited. Here are some of my favorite slang expressions:

1. Slide it, Earl
I first heard this from an old boyfriend who came from the pseudo-Appalachia of way-upstate New York. He said it when someone-usually someone behind the wheel of a pickup with a gun rack on the back window and a dog riding in the cab-was driving too slowly for his taste. He didn’t outright say he’d invented the phrase, but strongly led me to believe so. (Hey, I was young and gullible.) Not only had I adopted the phrase, but after he disappeared from my life, other future boyfriends picked it up from me like a nasty, embarrassing rash. Which annoyed me. What annoyed me even more? While watching an old episode of Match Game on the Game Show Network recently, Gene Rayburn gestured to the manually-operated bonus round answer board and said, “Slide it, Earl!” Feh! I’ve been HAD.

2. Half a bubble off plumb
Ah, this has a beautiful sound, just kind of rolls off the tongue, which is the best thing about great slang. This is a wonderful phrase for someone or something that isn’t quite right, albeit probably in a good way. As in, “My aunt’s half a bubble off plumb, but that quirkiness is probably what I love most about her.”

3. Sea change.
This came to me via an uncle, who was actually not an uncle but one of those friends of the family my parents insisted we call “uncle.” We were having a political discussion and he said something like, “To get that kind of legislation passed, we’ll have to see a real sea change in Congress.” He couldn’t believe I’d never heard the term before. Apparently, according to his explanation, people in the pre-aviation days, seeking relief from a broken heart, consumptive illness or other assorted shattered dreams, would board an ocean liner for Europe, hoping their bad humors would dissolve in the Atlantic. Hence, sea change. Or it could have been from Shakespeare. To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to.

4. PITA
Early in my advertising career, a colleague coached me on how to quote jobs. We were working on one for a particularly obnoxious, petty nickel-and-dimer (speaking of slang). “And then, of course,” she said, “We add the five percent PITA tax.” As in “pain in the ass.” When I went client side, I was particularly conscious of not needing this tax added to my jobs.

5. Buzzkill
Another word I love for the sound. I can just hear a mosquito being vaporized in a lamp. Which is also, for the mosquito, anyway, a real buzzkill.

6. Grok
I love this word, as it encompasses so many activities at once. Coined by Robert Heinlein in his 1961 sci-fi classic, Stranger in a Strange Land, it means understanding something all in one gulp. Or, from the novel:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed-to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science-and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

Unfortunately, this word is slipping out of favor and, at times, is being replaced with the unctuous, camera-ready “aha moment.”

7. Frack (original series), Frak (reimagined series)
One of my favorite words ever coined, this was a Battlestar Galactica writer’s way of getting away with a juicy expletive on television networks that frowned upon juicy expletives. Frak is currently bobbling into over- and mis-use. Please help me save “frak” by using it as judiciously as you would any other f-bomb. Thanks. And thank you to the environmentalists of New York State, for another definition of this slang term: “Frack” is short for hydrofracking, or hydrofracturing, a potentially water-table-contaminating way of fracturing sedimentary rock to extract natural gas. To which many of my fellow New Yorkers respond, “No fracking way.”

8. Spiffanilla
I think I made this up. Means, roughly, “awesome.” Please feel free to correct me if, say, an old boyfriend copped it from a game show.

What are your favorite slang words or expressions?

(Thank you, Plinky people, for today’s prompt, “What’s your favorite slang word?”)

Best Political Gaffes of 2010

Vice-President Joe Biden turned his untimely f-bomb into a fundraising opportunity.

I am fortunate to be in a profession in which errors don’t normally result in the loss of human life. Typos and grammatical mistakes may cause a little embarrassment, and could, if printed, cost the client some money and a smidgen of credibility; at worst, a missed marketing opportunity, but no one is dying on the table. No one bleeds out from a misplaced comma. (A colon, maybe.) No one will perish in a plane crash because my subject and verb do not agree.

These are extreme examples, I realize, but mistakes in other professions can also have lasting repercussions. Ask Mark McGwire. Or BP.

If you’re a politician, however, beware the open mike or the flippant tweet, because the media, and your opposition, have long memories. Whether Sarah Palin meant to write “refudiate” in her now-famous Twitter post or simply chose the wrong word, the results are now engraved in pop culture history: “refudiate” made the top three in several “best words of 2010” lists.

Here are more of my favorite political gaffes of 2010:

1. “I am not a witch.” Copping a famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Christine O’Donnell, in a scripted, intentional, but misguided political ad, tried to assure potential voters in Delaware she no longer “dabbled in witchcraft” and would not turn them into newts. Instead, Delaware turned her into an unemployed marketing consultant.

2. “Our North Korean allies…” Oops. Sarah Palin, probably tired from counting the advance she made on her second book deal, misspoke and made the Huffington Post orgasmic for a while at her seeming lack of current events and geographical knowledge. I think they were too hard on her, since she obviously meant to say, “our Al-Qaeda allies.”

3. “This is a big f***ing deal.” Joe Biden is always good for a laugh. This expletive, about the passage of the healthcare reform bill, came when he leaned into President Obama’s ear near a microphone he didn’t know was open. This slip of the lip has legs, though. And a limited edition, fund-raising t-shirt, courtesy of the same brilliant organization behind Obama’s presidential campaign.

4. Carl Paladino. Take your pick from any of his greatest (baseball bat) hits. Every time he opened his mouth it was anybody’s guess what would come out.

5. “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.” Sharron Angle, responding to a group of Latino students about one in her series of racially offensive ads, tried to prove her color-blindness, and failed miserably. And lost the race to another of our favorite gaffe-makers, Harry Reid.

6. What’s with Barbara Boxer’s hair? Has the Feminist Movement taught us nothing? Carly Fiorina, while waiting to be interviewed during her race against incumbent senator Barbara Boxer, “forgot” her mike was on and said, “Saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, God what is that hair?” Dear, oh, dear. Haven’t we learned our lessons from folks who’ve dumped on Hilary’s pantsuits? And why do women do this to each other? You’d think as a CEO Fiorina would be a tad more savvy.

7. “This is Reagan country, and perhaps it was destiny that the man who went to California’s Eureka College would become so woven within and interlinked to the Golden State.” So sayeth Sarah Palin. Except Eureka’s in Illinois, and Reagan didn’t move to California until five years after he graduated. Oops.

8. “The Hottest Member.” During a fundraiser hosted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Harry Reid referred to New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, as “our hottest member.” She was sitting only a few feet away at the time. One of Reid’s spokes-bots later clarified, “What can I say, she made The Hill’s ‘Most Beautiful’ list. Of course he also went on to praise her skill and tenacity and described her as an effective member of the New York delegation as well.” Of course.

9. Don’t mess with Red Sox Nation. Remember Martha Coakley? She ran against Scott Brown for Ted Kennedy’s seat? She dissed former Sox pitching phenom Curt Schilling by calling him a Yankees fan and the home crowd by sneering at the horrific idea that she should have human contact with the electorate, “..standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” Nah, we don’t remember her either.

Anyone I’ve forgotten? What were your favorite hot mike and brain freeze moments from the past year?