Jeepers creepers! Language today can be baffling
WORTHINGTON -- Last week this column was talking of guys, some of them boys, who never have heard a meadow lark sing, never heard a rooster crow. Did you see the report on the Sioux Falls spelling bee? One eighth-grader took "countenance" and "pe...
WORTHINGTON -- Last week this column was talking of guys, some of them boys, who never have heard a meadow lark sing, never heard a rooster crow.
Did you see the report on the Sioux Falls spelling bee?
One eighth-grader took "countenance" and "perjury" and "monarch" in stride. She tripped over "bobolink." The news account said, "She shot a look (at the judge) as though she did not quite believe bobolink is a word."
It is too bad. Kids know rap and reggae but they don't know larks and robins, or bobolinks.
That spelling bee story stirred a conversation about English speakers not liking big words. Words like television get reduced to TV. Automobile became auto, and soon it became car. A great long time ago, five-letter pairs got cut to four letters -- "is not" was made isn't; "do not," don't; four-letter pairs got trimmed to three letters -- "it is," it's; three letters to two, "I am," I'm. One man noted some people chop vegetables to "veggies."
One thing leads to another in conversation. You know how that goes.
Someone wondered why "we" try to class things as vegetables or fruits. Why not just call everything from the garden or the orchard by its name -- or say "produce?"
Sorting fruits from vegetables is so important the U.S. Supreme Court was called on -- you've heard this -- to decide whether tomatoes belong in the fruit tent or the vegetable tent. The solemn old men on the Court debated and researched and decided, "Tomatoes are vegetables." Call a tomato a fruit, you may go to jail.
It is curious how we make tents for all things. All things must be in a black tent or a white tent, young tent or old tent, vegetable or fruit.
Words indeed may make a huge difference. For all of this, people make much of words that seem often to be no big thing. I remember a preacher telling kids "jeepers creepers" begins with a "J" and with a "C." Jesus Christ begins with a "J" and with a "C." Preacher's warning was, "Saying jeepers creepers is a sin."
We didn't think that. The thought never occurred to any among us. Well -- jeepers creepers -- it's just an expression. They even sang about it:
"Jeepers, creepers, where'd ya' get those peepers..."
It came to me that it has been a long time since I heard someone saying or singing jeepers creepers.
Then I was thinking of goody goody.
Benny Goodman played, "Goody Goody." Everybody used to sing it and say it:
"So you met someone who set you back on your heels. Goody goody! So you met someone and now you know how it feels. Goody goody!..."
"The Daily Globe is at the door? Goody goody!"
The thing I am getting at now: I think we did better in times gone by with our slang, with goody goody and jeepers creepers, than we sometimes do today with the mother tongue.
I have shuddered before at that word "sibling" that has come to be popular. I have a brother. I never had a sibling. In jeepers creepers times, everyone I knew had brothers and/or sisters. I will always think siblings is a word for squirmy things lifted out of shallow water in a gunny sack. (Cain asked, "Am I my sibling's keeper?" Not.)
There is that phrase, "politically correct." Politically correct wafted out of the '70s, didn't it? I don't know why anyone believes it is needed. We get along well explaining, "He's just being polite," or, "She's being diplomatic," or, "They don't want to offend anyone." Forget "politically correct." I heard people get warts on their tongues if they keep saying, "politically correct."
"Closure" is another one. Everyone who weeps on CNN or who grieves to a newspaper reporter begs for "closure." Our president and police officers vow to help mourners find closure.
I checked my Internet dictionary. Internet dictionary still says closure is, "an act or process of closing something...esp. an institution, a thoroughfare, a frontier..." Through 40 centuries people mourned, grieved, wept, had feelings of emptiness, sought peace, sought consolation, welcomed sympathy, hoped for healing, hoped for hope, for comfort, for support.
Now they search for "closure." Closure is not a goody goody word. Dictionary says closure sometimes has to do with zippers.
Check your closure.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.