Recently in Verbal Remedies Category

When I used to work at a children's science museum in Berkeley, we constantly had problems with our parking machines. Jon Carroll memorably examined the parking lot issue in Bad Ideas Hither and Yon, and even after the museum's plaza construction ended, parking was a constant problem. Patrons could not understand how to pay, or the machines would not take certain denominations of money, or it would rain and everything would break. I suspect that the first problem was to blame most of the time, but we at the Front Desk were eager to report problems to Cal's Parking & Transportation office after the first complaint, because it meant we got to park for free that day.

When befuddled guests came to the Front Desk, I was usually the parking liason. I had a standard phrase that nearly always satisfied a frustrated would-be parker. "There's a problem with the machine," I explained. "You see, the system is...electronic."

Invariably, the guest would nod his head in commiseration. Even though I'd given him a throughly inadequate explanation, I had conveyed that no human being was responsible for his parking hassle, and implied that no human being could solve the problem. He and I were comrades, both victims of the unpredictable vagaries of the gods of Electronics.

I use "electronic" in the same way that a medieval man might say "magic" or "witchcraft". "Electronic" is a catch-call category for any number of computer-related devices and machines, but what it really means to me is, "something I don't understand". Why aren't the dinosaurs moving? There's a problem with the electronics. How does the reflex tester work? Electronics. People rarely asked a follow-up question, for fear of looking like they didn't know what electronics were. "Right, right," they'd say. "That makes sense. I was thinking it was something electronic."

Currently, our house is having a great deal of trouble with our wireless router. Comcast has come out twice to attempt a repair, with no real results. The connection sometimes works well, sometimes works slowly, and sometimes doesn't work at all. We unplug wires, push in cables, and sometimes it comes back to life, and sometimes it's down for days at a time. There is no way to predict the results. It's electronic, after all.

I think the solution is to treat the router like a capricious deity. We will construct a tiny shrine for it in the living room, forbidding visitors to touch the router, or even look directly at it. In fact, we will no longer write down its name, referring to the device as R--ter. Every evening, we will leave an offering in front of the r--ter - a thimble of WD-40, a sacrificial burnt CD, the semen of a righteous man - in hopes of currying favor. We might even leave curry. We're already composing songs of praise for the r--ter, because what else are we going to do? It's electronic, after all.

tobey keith and confused germans

A few months ago, the upstairs neighbors needed a new roommate. They ended up getting a temporary German, who was going to stay for two months. Before he moved in, we got into a discussion about the great opportunity this presented us, in terms of potential for cultural disinformation and general harassment. Our intent was not malicious, at least, not completely.. We didn't want to deceive the new German as much as we were intrigued by the potential to spread false and bizarre American culture back to Germany itself. If we could convince the new German that certain sayings or practices were standard American fare, or at least done by cool people, he might pass it on to his freundes back home.

Of course, Germans are already cognizant of American culture. When Gene lived in Munich, the hot import beer was Miller Genuine Draft. Neighbor Britney warned us that Germans knew enough about America to be familiar with the short-lived WB series Wonderfalls (which Paul thought was a TLC song), and also cautioned, "He's German, not retarded."

That didn't stop us from making plans, though we knew from the start that we'd never have the discipline to keep the charade going long enough. We thought about using "buttfucks" as a proxy for bupkis, our hope being that the similarity in sound might the German feel that "buttfucks" was acceptable slang: "Hans, that guy didn't know buttfucks about how to set up a wireless network." The phrase was, "burn some hot rubber" would mean, put a record on the LP player

I thought the neighbors should insist on playing Axis and Allies, as often as three or four times each week. The new German would always have to play as Germany, though it might be presented as everyone else relenting and letting him play as his native country, every single time. "RISK? No, I think we'll try another round of Axis and Allies." Everyone would act all nice about it on the surface, but audibly take pleasure in thwarting Germany in the game, to the point of making taunting gestures or muttering curse words, preferably in German or Yiddish.

The new slang phrase we really liked was also going to to be the one hardest to say with a straight face. If we were talking about a song, or movie we liked, we'd say, "That gives me a boner." Now, it wouldn't be used in a sexual way; just to add emphasis or clarification. "I love that new Wolf Parade album. It really gives me a boner." Or, "Good Night and Good Luck was good, I guess, but it just didn't give me a boner." I think that would be way funnier if the guy saying it were wearing lederhosen.

We never instituted any of this, lazy drunks that we were, and I had basically forgotten all about it until I was looking over Tobey Keith lyrics online (don't ask). On his "Shock n' Y'all" album, Tobey Keith has a tune entitled "The Taliban Song". Here is a representative verse:

Now, I ain't seen my wife's face since they came here
They make her wear a scarf over her head that covers her from ear to ear
She loves the desert and the hot white sand
But man she's just like me, naw she can't stand the Taliban

The chorus ends with the camel-herdin' Middle Eastern man riding away from the oppressive land of Afghanistan. They leave, but not before they "bid a fair adieu and flip the finger to the Taliban", a triumphant chorus that repeats a few times. The last time, however, the climactic line is altered slightly, and Keith sings, "We'll bid a fair adieu and give a big boner to the Taliban."

I could not understand what the hell this means. Is it just a side effect of friction, from riding on the back of the camel? But, no, I think maybe this is a sign that Tobey has spent some time in Germany. There's nothing sexual; it's just that leaving the oppressive fundamentalist regime, is so good, it really gives that camel-herdin' man a boner.

the importance of articles


Articles are important. Consider the images evoked by each of the following sentences.

1. My boyfriend is in a band.


2. My boyfriend is in band.


3. My boyfriend is in The Band.


Word choice matters. Articles matter.

new slang, part 1: "sucks"


I have gone on record as a big fan of the English language. Still, I do not love my mother tongue unconditionally. Much as I believe that true patriots have a duty to criticize their government, and that true Giants fans have an obligation to boo Neifi Perez, a true champion of the English language must be ready to speak up when there's something amiss in the vernacular.

I am speaking of the word "suck." Something that "sucks" is said to be inadequate, displeasing, or of poor quality." However, it is unclear why English speakers, particularly men, would want to associate such negative connotations to the act of fellatio. To verbally equate Tony Danza sitcoms with blowjobs is not only unduly prejudicial toward oral sex, but also just not very descriptive. Clearly, male speakers of English need to make some adjustments.

My humble suggestion: Why not replace the word "sucks" with another verb that actually signifies bad, or unpleasant activities? Instead of continually sending the message to girls that sucking is bad, opt for a different form of negative verbal reinforcement. For example...

"Did you see Matrix Reloaded yet?"

"Yes. That first half hour in Zion was awful! I mean, there was the random kid, and the rave orgy, and... it just plain cuddled. It didn't stop cuddling until Keanu fought that guy guarding the Oracle."


"There's a Robin Williams comedy special tonight on HBO."

"No thanks. His stand-up comedy really blue-balls me. Did you see Father's Day? It was a forty-five-second handjob on prom night."

Or even:

"How was work?"

"Work was OK, but the traffic home from San Jose just talked about its day for hours and hours. Once I got to Pleasanton, it was just a boring story about work, but before that, it was a long pointless description of a dream"

Let's make this crazy language of ours make some damn sense, why don't we? Otherwise English might end up like German, and we all know how much that language likes to shop for shoes.

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