Quick. Let’s have some fun with words.
A former White House chief of staff was on TV the other day telling us how important it is for presidents to hear the “unvarnished truth.”
Thinking back to when this guy was in the White House, I don’t think he would have recognized the “unvarnished truth” if it sidled up to him and bit him in the caboose. He “served” back in the “weapons of mass destruction” days of yore.
This is the kind of talk that tells us we have to “drain the swamp” until there’s no water or varnish in the swamp.
Experience tells us that if a politician doesn’t have people telling him/her the “unvarnished truth,” well, then they “take a shellacking” in the next election. Every election, the losing party doesn’t just lose, it “takes a shellacking,” which is surprising, because shellac is a wonderful product, made from the shells of insects, with which we finish furniture.
We have used shellac for years on The Wife’s collection of Extremely Heavy Antiques, and it gives huge cabinets and massive wardrobes a beautiful, easily-repaired finish.
I don’t know how shellac got tied up in politics, but the unfair, negative connotation makes me want to drain the swamp even more. This is, to quote millions of angry, aggrieved persons holding signs in the streets, “UNFAIR!”
That said, we are left to contemplate this furniture refinishing preoccupation in politics. Beats me what it’s all about, but I still want to drain... Well, you know.
Meanwhile (and I’m always tempted to use the words “back at the ranch” after I write “meanwhile,” probably because I watched too many Saturday morning Westerns as a kid), the per-share price of the word “tarmac” continues to skyrocket. I wish I had stock in “tarmac.” To listen to the news, airplanes simply must be parked “on the tarmac.” An airplane is either “at 30,000 feet,” or “on the tarmac.” No exceptions, Mr./Ms. News Reporter. Get with the program.
Wake up, smell coffee.
To hear them tell it, no airplane was ever parked, in the history of airplanes, on concrete, or on asphalt, or on simple “macadam” (“small broken stones, used in making roads,” according to Webster). Write that an airplane was parked “on the macadam” and some harried editor will shout, “No, no, no, you IDIOT! Airplanes are parked on the TARMAC! Where’d you go to college, anyway?”
I’m pretty sure that after the Wright brothers flew for the first time, they parked their airplane “on the tarmac.”
Turns out that “tarmac” is really short for “tarmacadam,” which sounds like an Irishman, but, according to the Cambridge Dictionary means “(an area of) black material used for building roads that consist of tar mixed with small stones.”
If you forget the all-important Tarmac Rule, however, you might as well forget to say a patient was “RUSHED” to the hospital in an ambulance. All persons in ambulances are “rushed” to the hospital, because it would be wrong to “mosey” them to the hospital, or to stop for refreshments or a movie along the way. Take it from a crusty old editor: It’s a rule.
Bottom line: If you forget these rules, young reporter person, well, maybe you ought to consider some other line of work. Like telemarketing.
In part, I blame politicians for this muddying of the waters of language. They say odd things, which then get quoted by impressionable reporters who admire the politicians’ big hair and smooth presentation. Witness the infestation of the words, “Listen,” “You know what?” and “Guess what!” as prelude to some great observation that no non-politician would have “guessed” in a million years. Prickly Ohio Governor John Kasich is a prime offender.
These people are smart because they call each other “colleagues.” You would never hear two guys in a municipal water department pickup truck call each other “colleagues.” It would make you laugh. But politicians, professors and big-time reporters get away with it all the time.
If I had time, I’d get into people who “unpack” complicated subjects, and those who say the answer to any tough question is “in the secret sauce.”
Sadly, I don’t.
So much swamp. So little time.
Dave Simpson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org