Me for You and Euphemism

Last night, a tough-talking investigator on CSI told another cop who was hassling him:
"Hey, don't bust my friggin' onions."

I realize there are network censors to circumvent, but it seems quaint that CBS has a problem with "balls," even with the Ms.-Jackson-if-you're-nasty debacle. I think it's a couple of writers having fun with euphemisms, wistfully thinking of the quaint days before Dennis Franz's butt changed everything. Days when they had to make characters say things like "backseat mambo" to keep it clean.

I remember a Moonlighting where Dave and Maddie are sitting at the kitchen table. Dave has, as is his wont, upset Maddie:

MADDIE: I don't give a flying fig!
DAVID: [beat] Flying fig?
MADDIE: [to camera] They know what I mean.

Euphemisms are fun. Even the unsavory ones require a modicum of wit. It is unseemly to announce to a group:

YOU: Everyone! I am about to poop!
EVERYONE: My, what a disgusting character.

But with nod and a wink, this statement is transformed:

YOU: I'm going to watch the Browns play in the Super Bowl.*
EVERYONE: What a subtle wit... such a way with words!

I remember an old-timer who frequently told me he was going to "see a man about a horse." I had no idea what he meant. I'd just say "OK, then!" and assume it was early onset Alzheimer's. Of course, he was going to pee. This is a euphemism that truly has no connection to its meaning, a nonsense phrase constructed to get one out of a room.

In that spirit, we at SPASTIC would like to open a forum for EMUs (Euphemisms Made Up). We begin with some of our own, and look forward to your additions:

Flaunting the Weasel Cake
Canoodling With Fishes
Spicing the Sausage
Racing Up Bald Mountain
Prancing the Fancy Dishes

I would write more, but I'm overdue for my Swing into the Mother Land.

*The official SPASTIC poophemism is "completing a download."


50 Cent is the new Warhol

"Pardon me, I was using the subjunctive instead of the past tense. Yes, we're way past tents. We're living in bungalows now."
-Captain Jeffery T. Spaulding (Groucho Marx), Animal Crackers, explaining English grammar to Mrs. Whitehead (Margaret Irving) (1929).

The above quote has nothing to do with the topic of my post. I just haven't been able to work it in anywhere and it needs to be on this site. So, there it is.

No, today is a friendly reminder about irony.

Remember that angry Canadian who sang about everything being ironic, don'tcha think?

Here are some lines:

A traffic jam when you're already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn't it ironic... don'tcha think?

No, no, and way no. "Isn't It Unfortunate?" would be a swell title. "Doesn't That Just Suck," perhaps. But not ironic. It's like meeting the man of my dreams, and he's narcoleptic, perhaps. It's like a no-smoking sign in front of Phillip Morris headquarters, sure.

Now, I'm sure I'm a late comer to this party. The song's 10 years old. But a fellow by the name of 50 Cent has a new song called "Candy Shop," which seems to be about searching for a really good lollipop, in which he posits:

"Isn't it ironic how erotic it is to watch 'em in thongs?"

What?!? Where is the irony here? As far as I can tell, the "'em" refers to women (some lyrics have it as "you"). From what I hear, women in thongs is still considered fairly erotic. Perhaps he means to say that the thong is as or more erotic than nothing at all. But this is not irony. "Isn't it ironic how erotic it is to watch 'em in parkas," maybe. Perhaps some research is needed here, but to say that a thong is not erotic flies in the face of modern troubadour Sisqo:

I think to sing it again
She had dumps like a truck truck truck
Thighs like what what what
All night long
Let me see that thong

So, finally, I come to this conclusion, the only one that makes sense:
By commenting on the erotic irony of thongs, Mr. Cent is actually making a post-modern joke, winking at us and asking: "Isn't it ironic how lacking in irony this is"?

Well played, Mr. Cent. Well played, indeed.


A Modest Proposal

"Maybe it is only I, but conditions are such these days, that if you use studiously correct grammar, people suspect you of homosexual tendencies."
Dorothy Parker, 1925

"It was either going to be you or I, and I didn't want it to be me."
-Angie, voting on Survivor last Thursday.

What is it about parallel structure that confuses us so? It seems so simple: Would you say "It was going to be I"? No. You wouldn't. And, pray tell, why not? Forget the rules of style, it just sounds bad. Doesn't it?

And here's the problem.

It doesn't sound bad. Used to be, we heard enough proper English to know what was right simply because improper English sounded wrong. Today, sigh, this passes for proper:

"I know it's been a little while since I've been out the house,
but now I'm here.. you wanna stand around runnin' yo' mouth?
I can't hear nothing you sayin' or spittin',
so what's up? Don't you see we in da club?"

I realize using pop lyrics as an example of eroding grammar may seem lucicrous. Popular music has always reveled in its ain't-got-nos and she-done-me-wrongs. But it used to be seen as something songwriters did, and that type of speech wasn't used in a job interview.

Today, high schoolers use "da" in formal papers. As an article, not quoting Dostoyevsky.

What to do? My suggestion is as simple as it is subversive:

Correct them.

Growing up, were you ever told "ain't ain't a word"? Adults had no problem guiding us. It took my high school English teacher three years to break my usage of "on accident." And now I bug the crap out of kids who say it.

Be polite. Don't condescend. Simply say:
"You or me. It was going to be you or me."
If enough people say that to them, they'll get it.

You have mine word on it.


Its Not Rocket Science, Folks!

Today I drove, for the umpteenth* time, past the local store advertising "video's." Sigh. Will we never learn? Worse yet are the folks who add apostrophes simply because there exists the letter "S" (example: Colonel Sander's).
We at SPASTIC have decided we need the intervention of Language Chair Emeritus** Dave Barry to once again explain this elusive mark.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Excerpted from Ask Mr Ask Mister Language Person [6], published Friday, April 25, 1997, in the Miami Herald.

We shall begin today by reviewing the correct use of the apostrophe, which is defined grammatically as "the little thing that is hard to find when you put it inside quotation marks," as is shown in this example: "'".

Even top professional writers have trouble with apostrophes, as we see in this quotation from William Shakespeare:

"O Romeo, Romeo
Your lookin' fine in them tight's."

This is incorrect, of course: Shakespeare has used the word "your" as a participial infraction, which requires an apostrophe, as we see in this corrected version:

"O Romeo, Romeo
You're buttock's are highly visible in them tight's."

A lot of people have this problem, which is why it is important to remember the Three Rules For When To Use Apostrophe's:

Example: "This childbirth really hurt's!"

Example: "There's snake's in the Nut 'n' Honey!"

Example: "Dear Moron's:"

Please have these rules tattooed on your biceps, because Mister Language Person is getting tired of correcting people and may soon turn the whole matter over to the police.
Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So, our point is this: Remember Nut 'n' Honey? It was good, right?

*Literally, 17th. From the Cockney "Ump", meaning a Baker's Pint.
**Mr. Barry is unaware of this honor.


Dead Parrot

The grunt of the human hog (Pignoramus intolerabilis) with an audible memory. The speech of one who utters with his tongue what he thinks with his ear, and feels the pride of a creator in accomplishing the feat of a parrot. A means (under Providence) of setting up as a wit without a capital of sense.
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

I'm old. When I'm told I look a hot mess, I'm not sure what to think. It doesn't sound good, but you never can tell these days. Bad can sometimes be good.

You know I'm bad, I'm bad
Jamone (sp?) Hoo
I'm bad, you know it
You know
You know
You know
-Michael Jackson, Bad

And I'm pretty sure I haven't rolled mad deep in a long time, if ever. Just today, though, I was told I was hot. For nearly half the day, I carried this compliment with me.

An erroneous appraisement.
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Turns out, "hot" can mean crazy, messed up, erroneous.

As much as we at SPASTIC enjoy railing against misuse of the subjunctive mood, we see no conflict in enjoying the use of what we call "Ephemeral English." This is language that by the time we learn it, it is retired. We use it as a reminder of lost youth, an attempt to be "dope"* for a fleeting moment. We have not forsaken our mission, we simply table it at times. At our last annual meeting, we unanimously voted to begin using "raise the roof" in colloquial speech. A week later, one member reported by e-mail that his research showed that since 1994, only monster truck show announcers have said "raise the roof."

We like to see ourselves as the astute owl, or even the clever crow, but we most often are the squawking parrot. But, truly, that makes it no less fun. Or, as they say, "sweet."**

*dope: 1992-Nov. 1993
**they do not say this.


Twelfth Night

The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

I used to feel sorry for the DJs who would tell us on Monday that it was only five more days to the weekend. What kind of life do you have where 75% of your time on Earth is spent wishing you were someplace else?
Well, lately I seem to have joined the day-countin' masses. Weekdays seem packed with responsibilty, pressure, and not enough time with the people you love. We fill our weekends with stuff, too. Sunday we rest. But not too much, it's the only day we have free.
I disagree with Bierce, though. It's not November. It's freakin' February. Get me outta here. For some reason, this time of year is by far my busiest. And it's the darkest and gloomiest. November is still Autumn. There's cider and Halloween candy left. There's still a chance for Indian Summer. February? It's the shortest month for a reason.

High schoolers spend the whole year counting down: to Christmas break, to spring break, to summer break. Today, I want to join them. I still don't think spending most of your days wishing for better days is a way to live. But on a dark day in deepest winter, I like to pretend that my calendar's shifted, and I'm nearing the end of my eleventh twelfth right about now. And that at its end, I need not resume counting.

January gray is here,
Like a sexton by her grave;
February bears the bier,
March with grief doth howl and rave,
And April weeps—but, O ye hours!
Follow with May’s fairest flowers.
-Shelley, “Dirge for the Year”


Joan Osborne Vs. Tevye Vs. Gwen Stefani

In "One of Us", Joan Osborne asked:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

Never mind that in pondering God in the flesh, Joan forgets the whole Jesus thing.
It's the misuse of the subjunctive that sticks in our collective craw. This song is like nails on a chalkboard to members of SPASTIC. Just when it was finally making its way to AOR low-rotation status, someone at CBS decided to pull it up and feature it as the theme for "Joan of Arcadia." Even if you don't watch the show, its jangly guitar weaves its way through "Amazing Race" commercials. Though we may go out of our way to avoid this frontal assault on SUB-TEN (subjunctive tense) by changing the radio station, we are not about to stop watching "Amazing Race."
So we soldier on, pointing out to those who politely listen that Ms. Osborne is messin' it up.
In her defense, the was/one assonance is a nicer rhyme than were/one. This does not make it right.

Now, some folks still get it right. For years, English teachers have held up Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye as the Golden Boy of SUB-TEN. Three decades later, Mr. Katzes and Mrs. Christiansens still embarrass their students by dancing for them and singing:

If I were a rich man,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

Oh, Tevye. If only there were more like you. You got it. And you're Russian!

A recent setback in the fight for SUB-TEN is Tevye's younger, blonder, skinnier successor, Gwen Stefani. Her single "Rich Girl" borrows heavily from Tevye:

If I was a rich girl na na na na na na na na na na na na na
See, I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl
No man could test me, impress me, my cash flow would never ever end
Cause I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl

Well, thanks, Gwen. Just great. Now when Mr. K and Mrs. C. do their dances, this is what they'll hear:

"Hey, that's Gwen! I didn't know you was so down! But Mr. K, it's WAS, not WERE."


Continue to fight the good fight.

"And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah..."
-joan osborne, "One of Us"

Welcome to SPASTIC

This is my first post. I plan to change it, if I am allowed to.
This is a baby step in what I hope will become a marathon, which will become an army of foot soldiers in a battle to preserve the use of the subjunctive tense in the English languge. The above mixed metaphor is one of the reasons I plan to change this post. More to come.