Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The etymology of phrases

In her latest post , CC asks, “Ever wondered where “That’s what she said” came from?” She’s expecting a negative, for she says, “Me neither…”, but actually I have wondered.

I find the etymology of phrases and picturesque language as fascinating as the etymology of words themselves. They make the difference between informing someone and telling a story; properly used, they produce effects and generate images that one would not have thought mere words capable of. They are the mark of the true educator, author, or journalist.

Their power can be told by the fact that once a particularly effective phrase enters the common vernacular, it gets run into the ground. One such is “fast and furious”- I became curious about this one a couple years ago after reading and/or hearing it spoken seventeen times in a single day. It may well be the single most overused couplet in the English language; many people seem incapable of even saying the word “fast” without completing it.

I started researching it- not seriously, but whenever I thought of it while a resource was available. To date, the oldest use of the phrase I can find is Robert Burns’ poem, “Tam O’Shanter”:
“As Tammie glower'd, amaz'd, and curious,The mirth and fun grew fast and furious…And how Tam stood like ane bewitch'd,And thought his very een enrich'd"

Is anyone aware of an earlier usage?

P.S. If any of you are Cutty Sark fans, are you aware that both the ship and the liquor were named for this poem? The young witch whose dancing so entranced Tam wore a “cutty sark”, which apparently is a nightshirt far too short to answer the call of decency.

P.P.S It occurs to me that an appropriate use of the phrase would be to describe Danica Patrick's walk down pit row in the 500.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Indiana Voter ID law

Indiana’s Voter ID law has now been upheld by the Supreme Court, and much hooting and hollering has come from the left as a result. One example of such is this opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, Indiana voters shut out for no rational reason by Steny Hoyer and Chris Dodd. Hoyer & Dodd speak of the requirement that voters who registered before 2007 (if you registered after, you can get the FREE ID on the spot) show some form of photo ID before voting as “…a high hurdle in front of their right to vote—the most fundamental right in a democracy.” They use as their example the case of a dozen nuns who were turned away at the poll in this last election as proof.

Of course when one reads the story, ( Indiana nuns lacking ID denied at poll by fellow sister ), one might well come to another conclusion- especially if one adds a couple details known because one lives here. Point: They had three full years since the law was passed to prepare for this election. Point: The ID is FREE. Point: Even without ID, you’re allowed to cast a provisional ballot and are then given another whole week to present some form of ID. These nuns did none of these things- evidently, because they depended on the poll worker, another nun, to let them in anyway. Unfortunately for them, she obeyed the law.

Hoyer & Dodd claim this law will “…place a disproportionate burden on the thousands who are too poor, too elderly or too disabled to meet rigid ID laws.” Really? Hmm… the law accepts any dated, government issued photo ID- which includes the ID’s issued to almost all recipients of government assistance such as WIC, AFDC, Section 8 housing vouchers, SSI, VA benefits, etc. So the “too poor, too elderly or too disabled” who would have this “disproportionate burden “ would have to be someone who has never driven, never served in the military, never received government assistance, and is just mobile enough to get to a license branch to register to vote, but cannot stay long enough to get his picture taken for the free ID to be issued. That’s a pretty narrow window- so narrow that the first judge to hear the case asked those seeking to strike down the law to give him a single name, a single person in a state of six million who would be so affected… and they couldn’t.

The Democrats opposing this law (and the opposition has been 100% Democratic so far) say that their only motivation is fear that somebody, somewhere might be disenfranchised. Curious… last year, right here in Marion County, Indiana, the new County Clerk botched an election so badly that hundreds of polling places opened hours late, and a dozen never opened at all. This was genuine disenfranchisement- you can’t even cast a provisional ballot if the poll never opens. And not one of these Democratic champions of Voter’s Rights filed a suit, issued a statement, or wrote an op-ed denouncing this clerk for disenfranchising thousands of voters. So what’s the real story, guys?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The soul of the Libertarian Party in the balance

When the Libertarian Party holds its convention in Denver over the Memorial Day weekend, their selection of a candidate for president will be a defining moment for years to come. The leading contender, many pundits say is Bob Barr .

Bob Barr is a former Republican, and very popular among that very set of Republicans most disappointed with the choice of McCain. A “conservative’s conservative”, he had a lead role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He’s a fiscal conservative, and an advocate of the “Fair Tax”, which would bring another disaffected group of voters. He calls for smaller government, and is against the Gulf War. With him at the helm, the Libertarian Party could get a bigger share of the vote than ever before, become a real player the other two parties would have to deal with.
However… he also is many things anathema to the Libertarian spirit. “Bob Barr was a strong supporter of the War on Drugs. He wrote the Defense of Marriage Act. He also voted for the Patriot Act. Bob Barr also proposed that the military ban the practice of Wicca among its ranks…” For someone like me, this makes him a non-starter- it is incomprehensible to me how the Libertarian Party could in good faith accept his application.

Will the Libertarian Party, in the pursuit of the bright elusive butterfly of votes, sell its soul, or will they accept the lesser role of goad and hold to their principles? Am I to be shouldered out of yet another party, to have no political home at all?

Movie review: Iron Man

In a word, fantastic! The best adaptation of a Marvel Comic to a live-action movie yet. The high points:

1. Casting. It would never have occurred to me to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark- which is why casting directors make the big bucks, and I don’t. He and Paltrow captured the relationship between Stark and his Gal Friday Pepper perfectly. Is it just me, or is Jeff Bridges starting to look like Jesse Ventura nowadays?

2. Special effects. It would have been so, so easy to go over the top- but they didn’t. The effects were exactly what was needed to tell the story- perfectly done, but no flash for flash’s sake.

3. The story. In today’s atmosphere, it would have been tempting to make the story a debate on America’s presence in the Middle East- but they told the story of personal crisis of conscience and personal redemption that the original comic book dealt with. It will be interesting to see in the inevitable sequels whether they deal with his alcoholism as well.

As a fan of the original comic book, I couldn’t have asked for better, and didn’t expect it to be this good. If you’ve never read the comic, don’t let that stop you from catching a fine summer flick.

Monday, May 05, 2008

I guess nothing is so bizarre…

That it can’t become normal if you live with it long enough. Consider the newest vacation resort…

“The sands are white, the sea laps gently and crowds of bronzed Americans laze in the Caribbean sunshine.
They have a cinema, a golf course and, naturally, a gift shop stocked with mugs, jaunty T-shirts and racks of postcards showing perfect sunsets and bright green iguanas.”

Where is this ocean front paradise? Welcome to "Taliban Towers" at Guantanamo Bay !

“While the detainees lie incarcerated, visitors can windsurf, take boat trips and go fishing for grouper, tuna, red snapper and swordfish.
The United States' 1.5million service personnel and Guantanamo's 3,000 construction workers are eligible to visit the "resort", which boasts a McDonald's, KFC and a bowling alley.
They even have a Wal-Mart supermarket.”

While most would consider the resort a bargain, "The vacation comes at a knock-down price: just $42 (£20) per night for a suite of air-conditioned rooms, including a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms.", I think it only fair to note that 300 men are living there at no charge...