WORDS, WORDS, WORDS!!!


The language, as most everything else, changes in mostly a gradual way, but sometimes seemingly practically overnight. There used to be such a commonly thought of thing as a break-in or a burglary; now, the papers give almost daily accounts of something called a home invasion. This is still a break-in, but it has taken on a new meaning and gives the impression of a platoon of thugs setting up their mortars on the front lawn, surrounding the territory, including the backyard doghouse, and storming the objective through doors and windows on all sides, with a helicopter crew overhead to both aid in the break-in and gun down any inhabitants of the enemy territory (a residence) who might try escaping. One longs for a return to the old break-in or burglary, in which a couple of masked hoods do a neat second-story job, clean out all the silver and money lying around and make off with check-books, credit cards, etc., while the family of the house is never disturbed from its sleep.

A stolen check signed and cashed by the thief is now called a forged instrument, as if someone were waving a toy gun in the bank and demanding payment. What once was called a "bad check," written by someone without enough cash in the bank to cover it, is now referred to as theft by deception (I think), although theft is usually conceived of as managed with a weapon of some sort, and that ain't exactly deception. Of course, the perfectly good term thief has been replaced by mugger, and so it goes. Both a holdup and a shakedown accomplish the same thing - separating some poor guy from his cash - and there's sure no deception in those cases, either. Maybe it all depends on the amount of damage to the cranium of the victim.

Sports jargon is not immune. Football and basketball players used to "run the play." Now, they execute, as declared by every coach and semiliterate athlete who mumble through those awful interviews on the evening-news shows that run one hour too long. One conjures up a football/basketball game in which the players keep nine-millimeter Glocks in uniform holsters and replace a holding penalty or a free throw with the wasting of the offending player, or the referee if that seems more appropriate, or both…maybe even a cheerleader if she is caught flashing her navel at the crowd when the coach is preening before the cameras, expecting the public to notice his tonsils and $600 suit, not her physical endowment, as he screams at his players.

A hefty linebacker used to tackle the opposing quarterback, but now he sacks the poor guy, threatening to destroy him physically while looting him of his uniform, the play-plans taped to his arm, and the cell-phone he uses to call his wife while the defense is on the field. A quarterback used to throw passes at his ends and backs; now, he hurls "balls" (what else?) at wide receivers, receivers in the slot, tight ends (hopefully sober, although a little 'shine might help), running backs (is there a walking back?), and eligible tackles, presumably only those who are unmarried. A penalty once was assessed for backfield in motion, but now that infraction is called "illegal procedure," and covers even a poor guard sniffing too loudly account of his hay fever and maliciously catching his opponent off-guard. One wonders if there will be a trial after the game to try all the "illegal procedure" miscreants and dole out the appropriate penalties for their dastardly acts of violence, whether premeditated or committed within the throes of passion.

The magic word in sports now is repeated by all the participants in those miserable interviews - focus. This what used to be called "paying attention," but now this stronger word is used, and one imagines a player with an eye in the middle of his forehead trained inexorably, threateningly, unflinchingly, and with automatic shutter speeds so as to see everything all the time and put it on the hard drive connected to his "focus" apparatus somewhere in his brain, later to be extracted, copied, analyzed and computerized, the better to focus on how to defeat the next opponent.

Two new words are used now to describe certain individuals in either the work force or in the happy segment of the society - ethnic and minority. An ethnic is a person who belongs to a race that's supposedly different from everyone else's in the country, hard to understand since everybody then becomes an "ethnic." This is sort of like comparing an African American with an American American, since whites can't be ethnics, no matter where they or their forebears originated, but blacks can. A person of Asian extraction can be an ethnic, notwithstanding that there are millions of them in the country, but a native of Indiana can't be an ethnic. It's not fair, and that's all there is to it.

It is fashionable in the newspapers and on the nightly newscasts to refer to a single individual as a minority, such as, "So-And-So, a minority, was hired to head Boondoggle, Incorporated, today." While the dictionary allows this semantic circumstance, one usually thinks of a group when thinking of a "minority." When the word is used to refer to a single individual, one imagines a person multiplying before his very eyes, a rather scary business; or, one may wonder if the term refers to a person's many body parts, all of them gathering to do some sort of deed, evil or otherwise…the "foot-bone connected to the ankle-bone and the ankle-bone connected to the leg-bone" kind of thing, as the old spiritual would have it, with all them ol' bones ganging up on some poor majority.

And then there are all the impaired and challenged folks. A guy's not nearly or completely deaf anymore; he's merely hearing-impaired. A blind person is seeing-impaired. There once was a "slow-learner," but now he is learning-impaired. A slow, 350-pound tackle is simply speed-impaired. A steroid-popping athlete changes from being strength-impaired to being strength-prepared, the better to break records of other athletes who obviously were common-sense-impaired. The challenged run the gamut from physically-, mentally-, psychologically-, test-taking- …you name it. Let's face it. Everybody's challenged, even if only in the eyes of everyone else, but never her/his own.

And so it goes. Reality and Tradition, thy names are now euphemism.