In the age of Trump, it seems words no longer mean what we (and the dictionary) think they mean. Even Merriam-Webster, which has been trolling the president and his staff hilariously, seems to have thrown up its hands (do dictionaries have hands??). And after the multiple Trump tweetstorms of the past couple of weeks (and the literal storm that took out a tree and my neighbor’s shed), I find myself looking to my favorite words. Because, ya know, I need a break.
Longtime readers know of my great love for funny-sounding words like persnickety and kerfuffle (hey, it’s that “k” sound!). I’ve thought that when I decide I’m ready for another cat or two, “Purrsnickety” and “Kerfluffle” would be good names. Then I remember how much I despise the cutesy reworkings of words for baby names (I’m looking at you, parents of Tu Morrow … damn you, Rob Morrow), and I’m jerked back to sanity.
Word nerds like me, though, can find solace in the beauty of “mellifluous” and “epiphany,” and the humor of “cattywampus” and “bumfuzzle.” We’re weird like that.
When I’m not giggling at American words like skedaddle and hornswoggle, I’m chortling at words from the British isles that sometimes sound like someone’s playing a huge joke on the rest of us.
Who knew there were so many terms for “idiot”?
Well, we did, especially once the Scots let loose on Donald Trump last year after he tweeted that Scotland was “going wild over the [Brexit] vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back.” Except … Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, as did London and Northern Ireland. It’s not their fault the rest of the not so United Kingdom voted to leave.
That inspired such responses as “we never got our country back, we wanted to remain, bolt ya hamster heedit bampot, away and boil yer napper” (which translates as “go away, you hamster-headed person of low intelligence and hooliganistic tendencies, go boil your head”), “spoon” (someone not trusted with a knife or fork), and the always reliable “clueless numpty” (one of the nicer ways of calling someone a stupid person). And those are the ones that can be printed in a family newspaper. I tried to find anything similar for Hillary, but she actually knew what was happening in the U.K., so …
But you don’t have to be a presidential candidate to earn similar mockery—Scots insult each other and their fellow citizens elsewhere in the U.K. just as saucily (as do those fellow citizens), and provide much entertainment for those of us amused by humorous terminology. Add other U.K. words and phrases to the mix (“barmy”—crazy; “know your onions”—be knowledgeable; “glunterpeck”—fool), and you’ve got good times.
Sure, the accents (which I love, by the way) are part of the effectiveness of words like these, but it’s the absurdity and creativity that sell them. Of course, I grew up watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus reruns on PBS, and my mom can be a bit weird, so I’m predisposed to odd humor. Shocking, I know.
Christine Ro, reporting for the BBC, explained last week that such silly expressions “reflect the U.K.’s cultural appreciation of wit, a long tradition of literary inventiveness—and Britain’s fluctuating global influence over the centuries.” Brits’ tendency to not take themselves too seriously, she reported, finds its way into whimsical wordplay, as illustrated by authors such as Shakespeare, Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll.
Seriously, can you imagine life without Oompa Loompas or Frumious Bandersnatches? And heck, chortle, one of my favorites, was a Carroll invention.
Ro wrote: “There’s a long tradition in British English of inventing words just for the fun of it. Eminent linguist David Crystal writes in The Story of English in 100 Words that ‘a gaggle of geese,’ ‘an unkindness of ravens,’ and other collective nouns of this ilk were created in the 15th century. He speculates that this was done deliberately for comic effect, giving rise to ‘a superfluity of nuns’ (pun intended).”
Just imagine, people engaging in wordplay for the sheer enjoyment rather than to prove some point, political or otherwise. A word nerd like me could not imagine something more blissful and fun.
With all the strife, real and contrived, going on right now, we could all use a little bit of that fun.
And more funny “k” sounds.
A reminder here that, if you haven’t been published in the last 30 days, we need your letters for the Voices page, especially with the holiday on Tuesday. Try to keep those letters under 300 words, keep it clean and civil, and if you cite a statement of fact, it may take longer to process your letter. We won’t be able to acknowledge or print everything we get, but we’ll do our best to print as many missives as we can. Since we’ll be completing the Tuesday and Wednesday pages on Monday, if you get your letter in by 8 a.m. that day, you’ll have a better chance of having it printed in the paper on July 4 or 5.
Have a favorite memory of Independence Day or of summertime activities? Have something stuck in your craw or a funny story to relate? Have a compliment you want to pass on? Write it up with your contact information (daytime phone number and/or email address) and send it in through the Web form, by email at voices@arkansasonline, by fax at (501) 372-4765, or by snail mail at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203 (make sure to include Voices in the address).
Thank you, and I look forward to reading what you have to say!
The Twittersphere has been burning up, thanks to our president’s increased tweeting. Many of his critics (even those he’s blocked) surmise that it means something’s about to hit the fan, and he wants to distract from it. (Again, buddy, the media doesn’t want you to stop tweeting; your lawyers and staff do. Calm down and have two scoops of ice cream.)
I won’t assume just yet, but he does seem to be more unhinged by the day. Perhaps he needs a safe space. I mean, other than Fox & Friends. And yep, all that whining means we have a lot of burns to get through!