Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parvum Opus 331 ~ Euphemism, Miscue, and Oxymoron

Look Who Tipped Up

New reader from England, Charlie F., found part of the PO discussion of “Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy Floy” which inevitably led to numerous e-mails running off in all four directions, but I’ll just pass on two. He sent this from Time’s online archive:

Authors of The Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy Floy, Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart, do not know themselves what the words mean. Said Slim: "We were sort of talking a new language." The dance they had vaguely in mind was to be done flatfoot. "When we put the floy floy on it, that was extra business. You got the whole dance right there; you're
swinging. See what I mean?"

Actually I was searching for a clip of the number because someone on the BBC 'Word of Mouth' message board had randomly queried what a floozy was. Being somewhat gobsmacked that anyone should need to ask what a floozy is or was, I thought I might just just muddy the water further, by virtually singing a chorus of the 'flat-foot floozy with the floy floy'. I googled for a youtube clip or the lyrics and discovered my error. Not floozy but floogie!
So I thought, what's a floogie? Come to that, what's a floy floy? So I tipped up at your site, as well as Time Magazine's archives, via the OED (where floogie doesn't rate a mention) and floy as your British chum found has no bearing on the song.
Note the new (to me) expression: tipped up. I guessed it might be a boating term but it’s not. Charlie wrote, “Over here you can rock up and slope off too,” and then sent “tip up” usages from the OED: something like “tiptoe”.

As for “floogy”, listening to the song by Slim Gaillard on YouTube, I discovered that the G in “floogie” is pronounced like J in jam, not G in good, making it a bit closer to the sound of “floozy”. I can’t find etymology for that word either, though links it to “flossy” — kind of fluffy and light.

Then on to “mad”. Charlie used the phrase “mad keen cyclist”. I said “mad” has been taken up rather recently as slang (often in Overheard in New York), used as an adjectival intensifier. “Madly” should be the adverb in “mad keen cyclist” and the adjective in something like “mad drunk” (very drunk), but it’s an adverb: very keen, very drunk. Charlie’s example from 1487 shows the basic meaning of crazy or angry, in an adverbial position (modifying the adjective):

Dronkenes maketh men to be somme mery dronken and somme mad dronken. (Skelton 1487)

Euphemism, Miscue, and Oxymoron

From Bryan Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

Minor woman — an odd combination of euphemism, miscue, and oxymoron — displaces a more natural wording such as "girl," "female minor," or, if the sex of the person is obvious, "minor." E.g.: "His reference to a 'mature' woman means he does not favor the right of a minor woman [read 'minor'] to choose to have an abortion without parental or judicial consent." Susan Yoachum, "Wilson Campaign Sticks to Familiar Topics," S.F. Chron., 2 Nov. 1990, at A21.

I get that “minor woman” is both a miscue and oxymoron, but why is it a euphemism? A euphemism is a word that softens a harsh reality, like “pass on” for “die” or “schnockered” for “mad drunk”. But what’s indelicate about an underage female, and why would “minor woman” be a softer term? Is there a word for calling something normal or neutral by a harsher name?

During the crest of the feminist reworking of language, we started saying woman instead of girl or young lady. The word woman demanded more respect, though to my ears it sounded strange for a long time, less polite, too sexual, too coarse, or even vaguely insulting. I’m glad the word was reclaimed. I didn’t want to be a [little] girl forever and I didn’t always feel ladylike. Woman worked.

But the more radical feminists also called females under 18 women. The thinking was that young girls ought to be able to “decide what to do with their bodies”, as if teenagers have very good sense about making life-altering decisions. I know I didn’t. People don’t automatically become adults (women and men) just because they’re legally allowed to drink. We don’t use “woman” to refer to a girl who’s just entered physical puberty, even if she gets pregnant at the age of 13.

If I had a minor daughter, I’d be suspicious of anyone who referred to her as a woman. The purpose seems to be to kick the children up to the level of adult autonomy as well as premature independence from their parents. Adults who want children to be legally able to do everything adults do often have questionable motives.

The 4-H Club

2-H: Harry H. asked about the origins of human speech, but I haven’t studied that and don’t have a good guess. The secular or scientific view, which is what he’s wondering about, is that the brain has a built-in language capacity, but that doesn’t explain how or why it kicked in with the very first human word. As Harry pointed out, occasionally children have been found who’ve grown up in the wild, or in solitude, and they didn’t develop language on their own. Some animals can supposedly be taught words or symbols, but they don’t do this independently. So what was the first word? (Or logos?) Ancient writing has been found, but no prehistoric audio record. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be able to pick up and identify sound waves from the first speaking humans, beamed back to us from outer space.

Harry also told me about a program to teach your baby to read.

2-H: Herb H. wrote:

I thought last week that you were not exactly complete in your remark about pronunciation of cou-pay and coop. Radio announcers in the 1940s always seemed to say cou-pay, and we were taught in school that radio announcers were good authority on pronunciation. … The voices that carried forward the story lines in the detective shows would say that the mysterious blonde was picked up by a gray cou-pay and we heard the engine as it drove away, winding up through the gears, voooooooooom, um, voooom, um, vooooooo* . . . Always two shifts. And you might remember in Bonnie and Clyde, when the pair encountered young WC working in the gasoline station. Bonnie asked WC if he knew what kind of car they were in. He said sure, it was a nineteen thirty-two Ford cou-pay. Bonnie so no, it was a STOLEN nineteen thirty-two Ford cou-pay.

But it seemed to me that in America, car name pronunciation was determined and promulgated by car dealers. And car dealers assiduously pursued an air of ignorance. Gradually I came to understand they were about making the prospective customer comfortable. Chev-row-lay was kind of hard to say. Any attempt to deal literally in the American tongue with the word spelled "Chevrolet" would be even worse. Dinah Shore could sing, "See the USA in your Chev-row-lay," but without exception, dealers and their salesmen said "Chev - o - lay." Well, in the same way, far as I ever heard, every one of them said "coop." More commonly, because a lot more of them were made, it was "club coop."

Many decades ago in Columbus, a Chev-o-lay dealership up on the north edge of town was named for the two owners. It was Mahlon - Maxton Chevrolet. Mahlon was turble embarrassed about such a tongue-unfriendly name spelling. They advertised every morning on AM radio, but still the public hesitated over that "Mahlon." In time, the two owners terminated their partnership. Maxton took over the business and continued the advertising with the slogan, "Jack Maxton, what a great, great guy," and always said Jack Maxton Chev-o-lay. Mahlon wanted his own dealership. I don't think they had focus groups in those days, but he wanted a better business name and he didn't want a total divorce from his old family name, so he became Bobby Layman Chev-o-lay, out on the west edge of town. And NOBODY sounded more ignorant in a radio commercial than Bobby Layman.

* Shouldn’t that be “vrooooooooom”? I guess people who say “Che-vo-lay” have cars that go vooooom.

Vigorous Twit

President O said the Iranian election has led to “vigorous debate”. I’m not sure how many people so far have been vigorously debated with by bullet or axe.

Dave DaBee wrote, “Somebody put out a perfect tweet Monday: Tienanmen + Twitter = Tehran. Perfect because of the sharp-eyed message, the alliteration, the terseness, and that random soul's ability to get it heard (and retweeted).”



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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; 2009 issues are 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 2009. 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.


Charlie F said...

Charlie is short for Charlotte! ;-)

Rhonda Keith Stephens said...

Ha! Usually it's guys who write. Glad to have another smart female around!