The Compulsive Copyeditor

February 17, 2010

The Genius of Slang

Filed under: etymology,language evolving,slang — amba12 @ 9:26 am

This post is a showcase for brilliant examples of the wit and wisdom of the vernacular.

It was inspired by finding this one, never before heard:

“I’ll be 75 Oct. 6,” Willie says. “And still getting me some unda-yonda.”

That could be the best term for sex ever invented.  What else captures in a breath the way it’s at once low down and far out, humiliating and transcendent?  “Genius” is not an overstatement.

(Sex and its associated anatomy are of course among the greatest inspirers of these coinages.  Nookie is another goodie.)

The anonymous folk poets who coin these things are among my foremost culture heroes.  They salt and season the language, that bubbling Irish stew anyone can throw a little something into, that ever-evolving collective cuisine we all take into our mouths every day.

Please contribute your own examples.  Please live up to the high standard set by this one.

There are basically two categories:  new terms you’ve just discovered, and clichés reappreciated.  Every cliché is a fossil coinage that was so apt that it got swallowed by the language.  My kickoff example for that category is over the hill.  You don’t know how apt that one is until you get over said hill.  Only then do you realize how hill-like life is — an energetic, engrossing climb with your next steps in front of your nose and the summit in your sights, followed by an unanticipated and precipitous toboggan ride.

There may even be a third category for word-origin sleuths:  what were probably once lively slang expressions entombed in etymology.  Like the grandly dismissive Latinate  preposterous, which essentially means “ass-backwards” (which actually means “ass-forwards”).

Have at it.


February 11, 2010

A Rule Is to Break . . .

Filed under: punctuation — amba12 @ 7:39 pm

. . . as long you do it as well as Gertrude Stein:

And what does a comma do, a comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma. A long complicated sentence should force itself upon you, make you know yourself knowing it and the comma, well at the most a comma is a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath. Anyway that is the way I felt about it and I felt that about it very very strongly. And so I almost never used a comma. The longer, the more complicated the sentence the greater the number of the same kinds of words I had following one after another, the more the very more I had of them the more I felt the passionate need of their taking care of themselves by themselves and not helping them, and thereby enfeebling them by putting in a comma.

So that is the way I felt about punctuation in prose, in poetry it is a little different but more so …

(from Lectures in America)

That should awaken you from your comma . . .

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