“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I hear words all day through; first from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?” |
— Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady
I’ve always been amazed by the versatility of the English language, and the rate at which it evolves; but not necessarily for the better to my way of thinking. Recently I happened to reread a piece from the late Ring Lardner, a legendary sportswriter and author of satirical short stories. Lardner was a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald; he influenced J. D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, and among others, late Los Angeles Times sports reporter Jim Murray. Among Lardner quotes are “I’ve known what it is to be hungry, but I always went right to a restaurant”, and “A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.”
Murray is acknowledged as the greatest of all sportswriters, one of only four of his ilk to win the Pulitzer Prize; and his column on losing his left eye and the death of his wife is a classic for the times. He also wrote that “Detroit should be left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army” and referred to the Indianapolis 500 as “America’s earache”. He suggested the race should be started by saying, “Gentlemen, start your coffins.” I’ve always admired Murray, but not sure the Pulitzer Prize is worthy of him.
You see Joseph Pulitzer, he of the prize that is held in such high esteem, was a pioneer of using scandal, sex, fear-mongering, and innuendo to drive sales. Although the Pulitzer Prize for journalism is awarded to the best in the trade, Pulitzer himself was at times among the seediest. He and William Randolph Hearst engaged in yellow journalism to see who could outsell the other. Because of this rivalry the newspaper business boomed. In fairness, Pulitzer, a Jewish immigrant, was a tireless crusader against corruption in all its forms.
Lardner died at 48 and Murray at 78.
It is largely because of these two gentlemen, who talk to me from the grave, that I am so taken by the written word. Sometimes one or the other even suggests topics for me to write. I once wrote of my personal experience of grudgingly acknowledging advancing age, and it was pure Jim Murray. He was whispering in my ear as I tickled the keyboard.
I consider myself a futurist yet freely confess I tend to live in the past. I’m an Offenhauser engine in Bill Holland’s Blue Crown Special at next year’s Indy 500; or a wooden bat at the college baseball world series. I want to attend the latest trendy lounge with a jazz trio playing in the corner; where ladies wear knee-length cocktail dresses that flair out from the hips and the bartenders wear vests and ties. I’m in a George Jetson neighborhood with a DC-3 parked in the garage. I like margaritas made from scratch and served straight up and martinis made with gin and vermouth. In the future game of rollerball I’d be the one wearing Tom Harmon’s Michigan helmet. At a black tie affair I’m the guy that actually ties his bowtie. I’m the latest body of carbon fiber on the outside with a soul of cast iron.
The written words of Lardner and Murray, among others, when compared to those who followed them are like comparing Leonardo da Vinci to Andy Warhol. Compare the bubblegum song lyrics of today in pop music and the ranting of so-called rap “artists” to those of the American songbook. Listen to the lyrics of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and more recently Paul Williams. For example:
“Talking to myself and feeling old. Sometimes I’d like to quit. Nothing ever seems to fit. Hanging around; some kind of lonely clown. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” --- Paul Williams
Who hasn’t felt that at some point in life?
“How insensitive I must have seemed when you told me that you loved me. How unmoved and cold I must have seemed when you told me so sincerely. Why, you must have asked, did I just turn and stare in icy silence?” --- Antonio Carlos Jobim
Tough to admit, but many of us have been on both sides of that one.
In the digression of written lyrics one can chart the increase of ignorance and decline of manners-and-civility among our culture. Further, I was taught by parents and teachers that the constant use of “blue” language was the mark of one who is ignorant because the user doesn’t have the vocabulary skills to communicate adequately. Old time comics refused to use profanity because they considered it a cheap laugh. Today grabbing one’s crotch and hollering “F**k you!” is considered high hilarity. We seem to keep dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. Do yourself a favor. Find a recording of Myron Cohen’s act and compare. I dare you not to laugh at the way the man could turn a phrase and spin a story.
Words… Take a word like “gay” for instance. My Webster Collegiate Dictionary from the 1960s defines the word as follows: adj: happily excited. Later dictionaries added a second meaning: n: homosexual. I’m not sure why gay was co-opted when homosexual (or the shortened form homo) was already a perfectly good word. Some say homo is derisive. Who says? Here’s a tidbit for the so-called PC crowd: I’ve heard gay used derisively 90-percent of the time. Listen to male and female, young and old: “Stop acting so gay” or “That shirt is gay” and on-and-on. So what makes gay more acceptable than homosexual or homo? Is it because at this time on the planet people are literally searching for new ways to be offended? Is it a method of command-and-control by the PC police? Case in point: Who is more over-the-top politically correct and quicker to imagine slurs than the entertainment industry? Well, dig this: I always wondered why Bruce Banner’s name was changed to David when The Incredible Hulk went from comic books to television. According to Lou Ferrigno, who acted in the series, the CBS executives declared openly, “Bruce sounds gayish”.
During an interview, a basketball player dropped an f-bomb and said he was no homo. The league commissioner fined him $75,000, and the emphasis was on what the commish called a slur. Would the result have been the same had gay been substituted for homo? What’s next; fines for admitting one is heterosexual? What’s worse, the player “apologized”. C’mon, man, grow a pair!
Look; I do not care what the sexual preference of any individual happens to be as long as no third party is harmed. Is the homosexual lifestyle and preference abnormal? Of course! Abnormal happens to be an accurate—not derisive—word. Normal is for relationships that propagate the species. It’s a law of nature. Argue all you want with me, folks, but you can’t argue with nature. Do I care if an individual prefers to be abnormal? As long as the behavior has no effect on my life I absolutely do not.
That brings me to “colored” and “negro”. Why are those words worse than Afro-American, black, and African-American? That chain of descriptive words happens to represent the morphing order from the 1970s. Negro happens to mean black; and colored is still in the masthead of the NAACP. If colored is “bad” should it not be removed? (Incidentally, I’ve always thought the use of black and white is divisive and silly since we’re all varying shades of sepia.)
However, If a social group prefers one word over another I think that’s fine, and I can go along with whatever they want, but careful thought should be put into the choice(s) to avoid the rest of society (out of the ears of PC police) finding and propagating unnecessary humor. Don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t happen more often than not. Why have a word du jour and declare all the previous descriptors as slurs? For that matter why let any word have power over you? For instance the words honky, cracker, white devil (courtesy of the Black Panthers), haole, gringo, kike, and Jew-bastard have ZERO power over me. (BTW I’m not Jewish, but some people think I am.) I simply consider the source and chalk it up to poor home-training, envy, low self-esteem, ignorance, and superstition. Anyway the PC police think it’s fine to call me those names.
So what about words? When I wrote about Mother’s Day and included a heartfelt poem about my late mother I received excellent ratings, wonderful comments, but limited readership. When I rant about leftwing loons and bomb-throwers, rightwing whack-o’s, and/or criticize the absurdity of American politicians and electorate I receive poor ratings (and more participation in the rating process), but the number of readers doubles and triples. Go figure. The New York Times claim their widest read and most emailed articles are those that evoke awe, anger, and anxiety.
“People need to be amused, shocked, titillated or angered,” wrote Jim Murray. “But if you can amuse, shock or make them indignant enough, you can slip lots of information in your message.”
Hopefully the message within my words is clear.
Copyright 2013 by Gene Myers, author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN (2009), Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY – a hilarious account of the author’s overseas travels; and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), PublishAmerica, Fredericksburg, MD - a mildly sinister, but amusing work of fiction. Both are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and available in Amazon Kindle and Nook formats. Watch for SALT HIS TAIL, a catch-me-if-you can crime thriller.
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