A slip of the tongue

Dude … did you not just describe Dear Leader?
Screenshot from Gemstone’s Twitter page.

One of the funniest things I saw last week came from something not so funny: Israel pre-emptively barring entry (after initially welcoming) of two duly elected U.S. representatives, both of whom are Muslim and have made inflammatory remarks about Israel.

In defending Israel and the president for urging the nation to bar the pair (because that’s totally something the leader of a nation should/would ask another nation to do to his own people), one person on Twitter, going by the name “Gemstone,” decried Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as “anti-semantic.”

Uhhhhh … didja maybe mean “anti-semitic”? And all of a sudden, I’m reminded of Donald Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) “niggardly” bit …

This is the look a lot of us make when mistakes like this happen.
GIF found on gfycat.

Whether Omar and Tlaib are anti-semitic or not (that’s debatable, depending who you talk to) isn’t my focus here, nor if they should be allowed to visit Israel and Palestine … because I’m not exactly a political writer. While anti-semitism—hostility to or prejudice against Jews—is nothing to laugh about (let’s not even start on the conflation of Judaism and the nation of Israel—they’re not the same thing ), anti-semanticism (I’m guessing on the spelling) is. “Semantics” pertains to words, meaning and logic, so to be anti-semantic, that would mean one is against those things.

I was lucky in that I really only had one teacher like this. Or maybe it was just that I behaved better than my brothers, who got rapped on the knuckles a lot.
Image found on The Write at Home Blog.

What did words and/or logic ever do to these people?

Did an English teacher rap their knuckles for dangling a participle? Did a high school debate judge rule for the other team because the anti-semantic team not only skirted essential research but also trotted out every straw-man argument known to man?  Do they hate word nerds and dictionaries—and Inigo Montoya—for pointing out that that word they keep using doesn’t mean what they think it does?

(A small aside: I hated debate in high school, and only won once in competition. But it was the only debate I really wanted to win, against an egotistical brat I knew from 4-H.)

I was the only one in my master’s class who had to get my comps essays past two research professors; one focused on the methodology side, and the other on semantics. Somehow I threaded that needle.
Speed Bump by Dave Coverly.

Don’t irritate the word nerd with your anti-semanticism. She’ll hurl the OED at you … once she gets someone to help her lift it. That sucker’s heavy.

She’ll also direct you to the word “malapropism,” which this seems to be (some might argue it’s a Freudian slip, but that’s another column … and perhaps a therapy session).

A malapropism, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase, especially the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context.”

Like, maybe, Jesus healing leopards or Texas having a lot of electrical votes.

The word came from the Mrs. Malaprop character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, a 1775 comedy of manners. Malapropisms are also sometimes called Dogberryisms after Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. While I do love Shakespeare and that’s one of my favorite plays, “malapropism” just rolls off the tongue with more ease.

Comedic actress Penelope Keith is one of many who’ve played perhaps the original giddy old aunt, Mrs. Malaprop.
Image found on PhotoStage.

Mrs. Malaprop had a terrible habit of using the wrong word, saying things like, “… [P]romise to forget this fellow to illiterate [she meant obliterate] him, I say, quite from your memory,” and “Oh! It gives me the hydrostatics [that’d be hysterics] to such a degree.” Her name comes from the French mal à propos, which means “inappropriately.”

We all make those little slips. Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, during the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, infamously said, “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”

Former Texas Speaker of the House Gib Lewis once told legislators at the end of a session, “I want to thank each and every one of you for having extinguished yourselves this session. It almost seems prescient of the Arkansas Legislature recently, with several now-former legislators doing time now. And there was Lewis’ plea of no contest to charges similar to the ones here, which resulted in his not seeking re-election in 1992. He indeed extinguished himself.

Yep … a lot of things around here are unpresidented.
Image found on Citizen Sociolinguistics.

A woman in my paternal grandma’s church used to sing “Bringing in the Cheese.” It was both a malapropism and a mondegreen.) My brothers and I hadn’t noticed it until Nanny pointed it out, but then we couldn’t contain ourselves. I think I was the only one allowed to go to church with her after that.

I make mistakes like this all the time; my tongue likes to get ahead of my brain, so what I’m thinking isn’t always what I say. One of the many nicknames for my late furry one was “Butterbear” … I meant to call the boy “Butterball.” (He was indeed about the size of a small turkey.) He seemed to like the name, though, so it stuck. That’s far from the only malapropism I’ve committed, though, and slips like this are more reason for me to prefer written communication over the spoken word (which makes requests to speak to clubs/classes a bit awkward). Written communication can be edited. Good luck trying to re-edit that horribly mangled sentence you just blurted out.

If your error’s in writing, hope against hope that it isn’t on a section front of a newspaper.
Image found on Snopes.

Still, Gemstone’s mistake was written … and both my Android phone and my iPad suggested “anti-semitic” when I typed in “anti- semantic,” soooo …

Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop would probably see no error in “anti-semantic.” Then again, she did say, “She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.”

Gotta watch out for those allegories. They can be vicious.


I want to clear up a few things on last week’s column about the conspiracy theories running wild after the death of Jeffrey Epstein, especially for those who seem to think that by discounting the bulk of these theories I’m excusing the Clintons or child sex-trafficking: Seriously?!? What the hell are you smoking? And no, I’m not just talking about the trolls on the newspaper’s site who intentionally misquote and/or misunderstand me. Those guys need a new hobby.

Perhaps it’s my upbringing and education, but I’ve never believed in making flash judgments based on nothing but speculation. It’s hard to give credence to anyone who relies on coincidence and their own biases rather than evidence (believe it or not, coincidences don’t constitute evidence). I believe, as the medical examiner does, that Epstein likely committed suicide. It’s no stretch to imagine that a man facing hard time in a federal penitentiary with little to no chance of a sweetheart deal like he had in Florida would decide to deprive victims of closure and justice rather than face the consequences of his actions.

Life just wouldn’t be complete without the Tinfoil Hat Brigade. But how about we try doing without it?Illustration by John Deering.

It does no one any good to claim immediately that this or that person took Epstein out of the equation to protect themselves. It certainly doesn’t help to battle it out on Twitter with #TrumpBodyCount and #ClintonBodyCount, a fight that deserves to be mocked; not liking someone is no reason to accuse them, without evidence, of murder. These stories tend to survive for decades, no matter how many times they’re disproved, which just muddies the water. Besides, as a friend quipped, if the president knew Epstein had evidence on the Clintons, he would have protected him like a Saudi prince. 😉

Let the professionals do their jobs sans your backseat driving. Perhaps time and investigation will prove that Epstein’s death was “helped” by persons with malevolent intentions. But for now, it appears to be suicide aided by incompetence at the detention center, and it was a cowardly act.

The victims deserve a lot better. And not just from Epstein.