Tag Archives: language

national poetry month, day 6.

In praise of words, the snap and pizzazz and taste of words.

Ode to American English
by Barbara Hamby

I was missing English one day, American, really,
     with its pill-popping Hungarian goulash of everything
from Anglo-Saxon to Zulu, because British English
     is not the same, if the paperback dictionary
I bought at Brentano’s on the Avenue de l’Opera
     is any indication, too cultured by half. Oh, the English
know their dahlias, but what about doowop, donuts,
     Dick Tracy, Tricky dick? With the elegant Oxfordian
accents, how could they understand my yearning for the hotrod,
     hotdog, hot flash vocabulary of the U.S. of A.,
the fragmented fandango of Dagwood’s everyday flattening
     of Mr. Beasley on the sidewalk, fetuses floating
on billboards, drive-by monster hip-hop stereos shaking
     the windows of my dining room like a 7.5 earthquake,
Ebonics, Spanglish, “you know” used as comma and period,
     the inability of 90% of the population to get the present perfect:
I have went, I have saw, I have tooken Jesus into my heart,
     the battle cry of the Bible Belt, but no one uses
the King James anymore, only plain-speak versions,
     in which Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, says,
“Dude, wake up,” and the L-man bolts up like a B-movie
     mummy. “Whoa, I was toasted.” Yes, ma’am,
I miss the mongrel plentitude of American English, its fall-guy,
     rat-terrier, dog-pound neologisms, the bomb of it all,
the rushing River Jordan backwoods mutability of it, the low-rider
     boom-box cruise of it, from New Joisey to Ha-wah-ya
with its sly dog, malasada-scarfing beach blanket lingo
     to the ubiquitous Valley Girl’s like-like stuttering,
shopaholic rant. i miss it quotidian beauty, its querulous
     back-biting righteous indignation, it preening rotgut
flag-waving cowardice. Suffering Succotash, sputters
     Sylvester the Cat; sine die, say the pork-bellied legislators
of the swamps and plains. i miss all those guys, their Tweety-bird
     resilience, their Doris Day optimism, the candid unguent
of utter unhappiness on every channel, the midnight televangelist
     euphoric stew, the junk mail, voice mail vernacular.
On every boulevard and rue I miss the Tarzan cry of Johnny
     Weismueller, Johnny Cash, Johnny B. Goode,
and all the smart-talking, gum-snapping hard-girl dialogue,
     finger-popping x-rated street talk, sports babble,
Cheetoes, Cheerios, chili dog diatribes. Yeah, I miss them all,
     sitting here on my sidewalk throne sipping champagne
verses lined up like hearses, metaphors juking, nouns zipping
     in my head like Corvettes on Dexadrine, French verbs
slitting my throat, yearning for James Dean to jump my curb.

words this week.

Michael Chabon is one of my favorite wielders of the English language, and I keep stopping to read bits of this out loud because it’s just so damn good. This week’s words all come from Telegraph Avenue; a few were new to me, and the rest are old favorites.

Arcology: n. an ideal integrated city contained within a massive vertical structure, allowing maximum conservation of the surrounding environment

Captious: adj. marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections

Clabber: n. milk that has naturally clotted on souring

Renascent: adj. rising again into being or vigor

Uxorial: adj. relating to a wife

crush month: day 15 (with special crush supplement 15a)

A Bit of Fry & Laurie. Crush Month Consumer Warning: If you are the tiniest bit cool (see also Ben Folds video, below), you will not find this funny. I, of course, think it’s a howler. #dorksunite

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