by JIM KNIPFEL
August 2, 2020
Big Top Snippets (aka Snippets XXI)
Perhaps the only justifiable reason for re-electing Donald Trump this November:
I dare you to name a single president—not only in recent memory, but ever, who had so many millions of Americans waking up every morning thinking, “Gee, I wonder what kind of incoherent, evil gibberish that fucking asshole buffoon is going to spout today?”
And that’s worth something.
* * *
As I was puttering about the kitchen shortly before six a.m. one Thursday morning—feeding the cats, changing the litter box and the like—I had an idea for a column. That’s the way it usually works, my mind will be wandering around as I do one brainless task or another, when it zeros in on a possible story. Okay, that sounds like it has potential.
As I continued puttering about with the morning’s what-not—eating breakfast, doing the dishes, taking out the trash—I began knocking the opening paragraph together in my head, along with a rough outline of the full story that would follow, those points I wanted to hit. Once I have that opening hammered out, the rest spills out pretty quickly. By the time I finished my mindless but necessary puttering, I had things pretty well together.
It’s always good to jot things down as quickly as possible, just to make sure you don’t forget anything. You can always come back later and clean it up. I went into the office and turned on the Machine. Once it had warmed up, and before creating a new file to dash down that swell paragraph and a few brief story notes, I thought it might be best to do a quick search through my existing files, just to see if at any point over the past thirty-three years I’d told the story before.
Well, it only took a few seconds to discover that not only had I written that story before, the opening paragraph I had in my head matched the opening paragraph in that old story word-for-word.
Okay then. I decided to skip it and wait for the next idea to come along. Man, but I’ve been doing this a long damn time.
* * *
Have you ever paused to notice there are a handful of words which are only pronounced a certain way when they appear in pop songs?
“City,” for instance, becomes “see-TAY”
“Angel” becomes “Ayn-JEL”
“Baby” becomes “bay-bay.”
“Away” is pronounced “ay-WAY”
And of course more often than not, final “R”s are dropped completely, leaving words like “far” pronounced “fah.”
So just imagine, a simple line like, “My angel baby lives in a city far, far away” could correctly, in a pop song context, be pronounced, “My Ayn-Jel bay-bay lives in a see-tay fah, fah ay-WAY.”
Sounds like something being sung by a deaf Norwegian.
All of the above examples can be found without too much hard listening in songs by Journey, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Styx and countless others. In most instances the new pronunciations seem to have little or nothing to do with rhyme or meter, so it remains unclear why they would be pronounced this way. They were the first obvious examples that came to mind. If you can think of others, don’t hesitate to pass them along. Thank you.
* * *
Why is it that between looking up the instructions (again), concentrating hard to make sure I hit all the command keys in the right order, and triple-checking what I’ve done at every step to ensure I haven’t made another egregious mistake, it takes me half an hour to change a file name on my computer, but if one of the cats decides they want to change a file name just to mess me up but good, it takes them a second or less?
* * *
There are times, usually in the late afternoon, when the voice in my head still sounds like Henry Rollins performing “Damaged I” from the first Black Flag album. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. I suspect not.
* * *
There are words which only seem to exist in common usage today in prefixed or suffixed form, the base root word itself having been lost somewhere along the way. Most of these words, for some reason, are negative in nature.
As an example, an expurgated edition of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer means it’s been censored. An unexpurgated edition means all those naughty bits have been left alone. So does that imply then that a book that was never messed with in the first place is a purgated edition?
Here’s another one. The Latin prefix “ab” means “away from.” So when you refer to something being absurd, you are referring to a state of having moved away from the surd. But when was the last time you heard anyone use the word “surd” to mean, I’m guessing, rational and comprehensible? “Your theories are quite surd, Dr. Fredericks.”
Without undertaking the slightest bit of philological research, here are a few more examples. The word with which we’re all familiar is followed by it’s lost root word, a presumed definition, and the lost root used in a sentence. Please do what you can to start bringing a few of these lost roots back into everyday vernacular, where they belong. Thank you.
hapless:hap (adj.); to be assured and in control over one’s own circumstances.
“As the skilled and fearless captain of the football team, Jerry was as hap as they come.”
abscond: scond (v); to leave something where it is.
“When the jewelry dealer stepped into the back room, Alan left the shop, sconding the rings on the counter.”
obstinate: stinate (adj.); easy-going and flexible.
“Whichever way the wind blows, Martha, you go along with it. You’re the most stinate woman I’ve ever known, Do you have no opinion about anything?”
distracted: tracted (adj.); Focused.
“Once Chan sets his mind to the task at hand, he remains completely tracted until he’s finished.”
ruthless: ruth (adj.); Fair, honest and selfless.
“Lenny was one of those ruth types who would help anyone, even to his own detriment.”
harrowing: harrow (v); to inflict fear or anxiety.
“Getting trapped on that ledge for three days certainly harrowed the group of elderly hikers.”
subterfuge: terfuge (v); to employ direct honesty.
“Even when things were going badly, Rocco believed in his heart terfuge was the best policy, and so pleaded guilty.”
discombobulated: combobulated (adj.); cohesive and focused.
“Mr. Rankin is a master of multitasking. He can have a dozen little jobs all going wrong at once, and he always remain combobulated through it all.”
reckless: reck (adj.); to act with caution.
“Zaphod was an extremely reck driver, obeying all the rules of the road, never exceeding the speed limit, and always having a designated driver when he went on another one of his benders.”
avert: vert (v); to press on toward a stated conclusion.
“By neglecting to hit the red button as instructed, Big Pete verted the meltdown.”
demoralized: moralized (adj.); assured and confident of one’s own righteous correctness.
“When the jury came back in her favor, Audrey, never the easiest person to deal with in the first place, was more moralized than ever.”
obfuscate: fuscate (v); to honestly clarify.
“When called on the carpet by his boss, Woodrow did what he could to fuscate matters, by handing over all of that quarter’s numbers.”
non-chalant: chalant (adj.); over-rehearsed, stiff, nervous:
“Stepping up to the podium, Maureen was totally chalant, sweating and stammering as if this report to her Brownie troop was a life or death matter.”
non-plussed: plussed (adj.); impressed, awed, humbled.
“When Snookums the Clown went on before him and wowed all the three-year-olds and moms in the audience, it was clear to everyone around him that Grubby the clown was deeply plussed by what he saw.
listless: list (abstract noun); energy, drive.
“I was feeling pretty list when I got up, so after doing the laundry, I went and bought the week’s groceries, mopped all the floors, and robbed the Citibank on Mason Street, all before noon!”
inept: ept (adj.); skilled, talented.
“Rutherford was ept at everything he touched—chess, cooking, painting, picking up chicks—which is why everyone hated him so much. Fucking ept bastard.”
* * *
Here’s a list of tropes which were once so commonplace in movies, TV shows, comic strips and cartoons they became part of our collective cultural consciousness. They all worked as a kind of shorthand. Now, however, for whatever reason they all seem to have vanished completely.
* Schoolkids and housewives saving box tops to win a prize.
* Company jingle or slogan contests.
* Licking an index finger and holding it up to determine wind direction.
* Slapping a raw steak over a newly-blackened eye to keep the swelling down.
* Bumps on the head rising from the scalp like obelisks. (This, it’s worth noting, never happened on any other part of the body, just the head.)
* Telephone operators wearing those singular headsets only telephone operators wore, plugging and unplugging wires on a complex switchboard.
* Long white cardboard boxes wrapped in large red ribbons. Originally used to deliver long-stemmed roses to a loved one, the boxes were inevitably repurposed to disguise machine guns.
* Kids making snow angels.
* Those heavily padded suits used to train attack dogs which always left the trainers looking like The Michelin Man.
* Nefarious characters rubbing their hands with glee and chuckling maniacally over some sinister plot or another.
* Clothespins worn on the nose to avoid bad smells.
* Holding a finger under someone’s nose to stifle a sneeze.
* Suitcases covered in stickers announcing all the foreign countries the owner has visited.
* Those round mirror things doctors always kept strapped on their heads.
* Short-sheeting someone as a prank, or by the same token, giving them the hotfoot.
* Treating a toothache by looping a strip of cloth under your chin and knotting it on top of your head.
* Totem poles
* Dune buggies
* Alpine rescue dogs—St. Bernards with small casks of brandy tied below their chins, sent out to find skiers and hikers lost in avalanches.
* People wearing barrel suits to indicate poverty.
* Gunfighters either twirling their pistols around their index fingers, blowing the smoke away from the barrel of a recently fired gun or, in most cases, both.
* Beauty parlors in which you could inevitably find a row of middle-aged women sitting beneath those big half-spherical hair dryers, flipping through magazines and gossiping.
* Pogo sticks (though half an hour after typing that I heard two kids down the block with one).
* Characters looking through a pair of binoculars, followed by a POV shot in which the enlarged scene is framed by what appears to be a shadowy sideways figure eight.
* Burly men in white uniforms using butterfly nets to capture crazy people on the lam.
* * *
People I Always Confuse With Each Other Because I’m an idiot, Part II:
* Toto and Supertramp
* The Guess Who and Three Dog Night
* Anthrax and Slayer (I’m sorry, but it’s true)
* John Cheever, John Gardner, John Barth, John Irving and John Updike
* Bryan Ferry, Brian Ritchie, Marc Almond and Peter Murphy
* Karen Allen, Jessica Harper, Meg Foster and Nancy Allen
* Suzie Quatro and Kim Wilde
* Captain Marvel and Shazam (unless they really are the same character)
* The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet and The Green Arrow
* Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell, though it hardly matters because I fucking despise both of them.
* Paul Sorvino and Cliff Robertson
* Syd Barret and Maureen Tucker (yeah, you figure it out)
* Any contemporary female R&B/hippity-hop singer who performs under a single name (Beyonce, Rhianna, etc.)
* * *
Every day without fail, I wake up far too early in the morning (usually with some assistance from a cat) with a dreadful pop song stuck in my head. A different one every morning. No, let me retract that a ways. They aren’t all dreadful. Some of them I like quite a bit, though sometimes the charm wears off after they’ve been swirling around my head for three hours. Here’s what I had to contend with for the first several hours of the day over the course of the past two weeks, give or take a few days:
“Gypsy,” by Fleetwood Mac
“Danke Schön,” by Wane Newton
“Sarah,” by Barry Manilow
“All by Myself,” by Eric Carmen
“Windmills of Your Mind,” as performed by Gonzo the Great
“Safe European Home,” by The Clash
“Johnny Strikes UP the Band,” by Warren Zevon
“Black Betty,” as performed by Ram Jam
“Hot Blooded,” by Foreigner
“Magic,” by Pilot
“Ashes to Ashes,” by David Bowie
“Blood for You,” by G.G. Allin
“Something in the Air,” by the Alan Parsons Project
“Take it Easy,” by The Eagles
“I Keep Forgetting,” by Michael MacDonald
“Breathing Water,” by World of Skin
“Dime A Dance,” by Vicky Lawrence
“My Generation,” by The Who
“Man Out of Time,” By Elvis Costello
“War Pigs,” by Black Sabbath
“Sounds That Surround us,” by Polygraph Lounge
“Underdog” theme song
“I’m Henry the Eighth,” as performed by Herman’s Hermits
Boy, given how contagious earworms can be, I sure hope none of these get stuck in YOUR head.
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