Friday, August 29, 2008

Parvum Opus 291 ~ Hatable Slang


Number 291


Note: Blogger's editing program makes erratic changes in formatting and capitalization that I did not intend.

Hatable Slang

From Dave DaBee:

New slang I hate (and you can quote me): "vaca" instead of vacation (pronounced "vay kay").

Correspondent #1 today: "… have a meeting with Joe, et all [sic] to get you back up to speed from vaca."

Correspondent #2 today: "… busy day before vaca."

I've just started hearing it this year. It doesn't even show up in most slang dictionaries. It's in but was only added 5 months ago.

Somebody said, in our branding / messaging exercise at work, that these days anything longer than two syllables eventually gets shortened to two syllables. The pros there rattled off a convincing list.

Oh well, it's that generation-to-generation thing, I suppose. "This is the way we've always done it ~ why does it need to change" vs "Who cares if we change it?? It's just a word." Novelty trumps value, perhaps. Or maybe novelty *is* (perceived as) value. Or fun.

This is how the language changes and how good slang gets born. But also bad slang and unnecessary changes and confusion. Wonder why they don't say "vac" (pronounced "vake")? I don't care for either version.

Can't Spell That

The glorious Olympics reminded me of the inexplicable change in the spelling of Chinese names, which came about a half century ago, according to Wikipedia. I still don't know why Peking should now be Beijing or why it wasn't before. My Chinese student tells me how the Chinese pronounce the names of other countries, and it's not the same as we do and not the same as people in other countries pronounce their names. So we ought to be able to do what's easy in our language, as they do in theirs. We ended up with combinations like Xi, which is not a natural spelling pattern in English, there's no way we can start out with an X sound with no preceding vowel, and the i could be anything, so we say something like Chee or Zhee or Zee.

There was, as you know, some controversy about the age of the Chinese female gymnasts, but maybe that's something that doesn't convert well either. The Chinese year exchange rate gets you two small gymnasts per one gymnast from anywhere else.

Vote as You Shot

The current (Sept.-Oct. 2008) issue of the magazine Mental Floss has an article about a few campaign slogans of yore, more interesting than anything we've heard in the last couple of years, my favorite of which is "Vote as you shot", Ulysses S. Grant's post-Civil War campaign slogan. Speaking of Grant, but I just learned that some books are available from my library as free downloadable sound files. I've got The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, which I don't have time to read, and couldn't find on CD or tape in the library, but maybe I can burn the file to CD and listen to it in the car.

If I were running for anything, as opposed to from anything, I might try "Get Beneath Keith" as a slogan, though it's lacking in substance (and kind of stupid besides), and "beneath" could be misunderstood. If Fred were running, maybe "Stephens Evens" would work (though as a good American he values freedom over equality).

Mental Floss also has a little spelling quiz. What is "a parent language, especially one reconstructed from the evidence of later languages"? Ursprache. German, of course, ur being proto or primitive, and sprache having to do with speech. You may remember urtexts from your Western Civ classes, the very earliest versions of any text such as a history or a bible.

A Wall Street Journal article by Jonathan Kaufman and Gary Fields, "Black in a New Light", about the supposed increase in frank discussion about race in America due to Obama's existence, says that the term "black" is getting more play now because "African-American" doesn't cover all the bases since more black people are immigrating. Which I've said for years, especially when people refer to black Africans as African-American. And they don't bother to refer to me as Scottish-American. Scottish isn't my point, but white is their point.

It has been noted that the favorite word of the last presidential conventions, "gravitas", hasn't been heard recently. Fred remembers when Joe Biden had hair plugs transplanted from his pubic region to his head, so every time Fred sees him, another image superimposes itself, and it's definitely anti-gravitas.

Overheard in New York

All-black-wearing chick with cigarette: Do you ever find yourself thinking really conservative thoughts by accident?

~ Outside International Affairs Building, Columbia University

There are no accidents, say I.

Overheard in Kentucky

In a restaurant yesterday, I kept hearing bits of conversation worth passing on to you; I couldn't write down all of them.

From the waitress: Sittin' on a park bench waitin' on a woman.

From a customer, to a woman who was probably her mother: The rule is never to leave Jeremiah alone with a doll. (Later) If you have plastic surgery and come out looking like a plastic sunburned baby ... I saw the pictures.

Theatrical Actress

From online TV program guide: "...a theatrical actress." Actresses are theatrical, if not all the time. The writer meant an actress of the theater as opposed to movies. A theatrical actress would mean an actress who behaves as if she's acting. Maybe a ham.

Vietnamese POV

I got a manicure in a Vietnamese nail salon from a young male college student whose parents came from Vietnam. He says the U.S. shouldn't have pulled out. Just thought I'd pass it on.

Yahoo Can Afford a Proofreader

Somewhere on Yahoo: Administrate email accounts here. Should be administer.


Someone asked why we call people heroes who are paid to do their job, like soldiers and firefighters. We call them heroes when they do something out of the ordinary or exceptionally difficult, but often when they are just doing the job they were trained for. You might say that anyone who does a "heroic" act does it out of his own impulse or nature and therefore can't take credit or be called a hero for doing something. Therefore heroes do not exist. But I don't think that. "Heroic" describes the act but cannot plumb the depths of motivation and choice.


There's been criticism of the new movie Tropic Thunder because some characters use the word "retard" to refer to a person who is whatever the correct word for that condition is. The movie is a comedy (very funny, too) but it has a lot of really gross dialogue, of which "retard" is the least offensive. People have a right to promote their preferred terminology and thinking, but censoring language that real people actually use is like not allowing cigarette smoking in a film. The anti-retard-word people apparently don't object to the obscenities and gore in the movie.

I just discovered the American Dialect Society, but only skimmed the front page. The Wikipedia entry lists their Words of the Year (Words of the Years?) but it's really a list of the most boring and overused words. Their "most outrageous" word for 1990 was politically correct/PC, "adhering to principles of left-wing social concern". Were they actually outraged, and are they still, in 2008? A web search of "politically incorrect" words or word list yields a vastly longer list than ADS can produce. "Black" coffee angers some people. "Flip chart" may offend Filipinos.

"Retard" as a noun is rude, and "retarded" has been replaced by mentally challenged and other euphemisms, but eventually it will probably be offensive to say in any way that some people were born with lower mental capacities.

And, The Language Monitor has a Million Word Watch, watching when the English language gets its millionth word. Will it be a PC word or a bad word? Their examples seem to be nonce words, that is, slang invented for the occasion, and most of which don't last. I think they tend to be created and favored by copywriters trying to come up with something clever, like "copyccino" for brisk ad copy. One is "staycation" (see Dave's unfavored "vaca"), a vacation at home. Someone wrote on the LM web site that if we add a word, we should discontinue one.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2008. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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