Embracing the lexicon

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Allow me to sweep up the crumbs and snippets that seem to collect on my worktable or my hard drive. I try to keep them in tidy stacks, but, sooner or later, they mix in with the only slightly more professional detritus: notes, newspaper clippings, business cards and “_____ for Dummies” books.

My ersatz organizational skills are so pathetic that some of these may have already seen ink. If so, apologies.

All right, let’s sweep. These are grown-up words, by the way, used about equally in spoken English as in print. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but “embrace” suddenly appears in nearly every speech or interview until we wonder if we couldn’t find something new to give it a rest – unless we really mean “to throw one’s arms around.” “Recognize” might work, or “authenticate,” “approve” or even “accept.”

My newest old chestnut is “surreal.” Sure we know what it means, but today’s usage is not exactly what it was when we first shook the dust from its shell. Give it another, oh, 18 months or so and it’ll be back in the embrace of the lexicon.

What were the buzzwords of your teens? “Cool” has been around a long time, but I’ve been around longer. As kids, our declaration of excellence was “Splendid!” Actually, it was a little more like “Splllennnd-DID,” and responded to the announcement that we were all going to meet for cherry Cokes after classes or “Glad you passed geometry.”

Another bit of praise actually had degrees. “Neat!” was complimentary, but “Neat-O” was better. And for the ultimate in accolades? “Neatie-neat!”

Dave and I are avid Jeopardy fans, and leave the dishes until later to watch the competition six evenings a week. We are bemused by the practice some contestants have of gambling an amount that ends in “one.”

Listen closely to the announcer. Is he saying “…our champion, Harry Snodgrass, whose three-day winnings total four-thousand, seven hundred and one dollar”? Or “Four-thousand, seven hundred and one dollars”? Spoken deliberately, as the Jeopardy announcer does, it sounds “right” to say “dollar,” but actually requires the plural.

Anyone know whence comes the expression “speaking truth to power”? It’s such a noble phrase, but not even Bartlett’s Quotations will give me its source.

The baseball expression “walk-off homer” or “walk-off double” – have you heard it often before this season? Wikipedia, the Internet dictionary, says the term has existed since baseball began, but has been used regularly only since the 1990s.

OK, from a column in the AJC several weeks ago, the objective case gets promoted to subjective on the subject of run-off elections: “It was always doubtful that any candidate in the largely low-key race would.…avoid a runoff. Whomever end up finishing first and second would then complete in a runoff Aug. 5.”

Whomever end up?

“Grot” sent me to my Oxford English Dictionary last week for this sentence from The Economist, in the AJC: “Many cities were known for lawlessness and grot; not surprisingly vacationers were passing them up for greener spots.”

Grot: grotto, fragment or particle, “something or someone grotty, esp. rubbish, dirt.”

A friend at church handed me this next one. She has a friend in Newnan whose sister lives in California. The California sister sent this to the Newnan sister, thinking she would be interested in a reference to Peachtree City.

Boldly titled Grandmas & Grandpas, Leftover Pride, it says, “Grandmas always save leftovers. Sallie Satterthwaite, a columnist for the Citizen in Peachtree City, Georgia, says she never throws away good food. Instead she recycles it in creative menus. Sallie hopes that some day her grandson will say with pride, ‘My grandmother never threw away anything.’”

What’s interesting about this tiny scrap of fame is that it is from one of those block-type calendars, 365 4” by 4” pages each with the day and date in large print (in this case Monday, May 5, which happens to be in 2008). In small print appears the celebration of Labour Day and Early May Bank Holiday in Australia and the U.K.

Now if this were an expensive calendar block it would have “The Far Side” or “Get Fuzzy” cartoons in color, one each day of the year, good for a chuckle-a-day for sure – for Dave, at least. I don’t like “Fuzzy.”

The calendar that promises me immortality, or at least leftovers, is cheap white paper with black ink and simply leaves a lot of space in the middle for jotting notes. I haven’t a clue where it came from.

Last, but very touching, from the AJC obituary page (names changed for privacy): “John Doe of Jones County went to be with his Lord and Savior directly from the Indian Mills Golf Course on July 18, 2008.…”

I hope you’re thinking the same thing I am: “His loved ones are consoled that he was doing what he dearly enjoyed, playing golf.”

That I can embrace.

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