The Idler used to read the late, great William Safire’s column, “On Language” and no one seems to have filled the void left by his passing in 2009. Since we like to think we’re no slouch at the language dodge, we thought we might herewith offer a similar service with this inaugural column in a series which shall be known as, “On Language ‘N ‘At”
Let’s begin with the word, “palindrome”. The word for palindrome shouldn’t be “palindrome”. It should be a palindrome. It should be something like “gummug” or “sayyas,” as in “Hey Otto, do you know your name is a gummug? Ha-ha, get it Otto? Don’t be such a boob. Hey there’s another one!” I’d even be okay with calling it a Napoleon since he is rumored to have gotten off the following palindromic classic, “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” It’s pretty hard to believe Napoleon ever actually said that though. Call me “une espèce d’idiot” but something tells me it doesn’t work in French. I even asked a French speaking friend if she knew any French words that were palindromes and she said “non,” so there you have it. It’s easier to believe that the first words spoken by man were, “Madam, I’m Adam,” especially since a quick look at your Bible will show that English was the official language of the Garden of Eden.
And what about “onomatopoeia? Six syllables and not so much as a hint at what the heck it means. If I recall Sister Othelia’s explanation – which I’m pretty sure she delivered at gunpoint or I wouldn’t be remembering it – it’s when a word sounds like what it means. “Splash” or “plop” are examples. Therefore I propose that the awkward and hard to remember word “onomatopoeia” be replaced by the amusing and easy to remember word, “kablooey.” As an added benefit, this might discourage musicians and performers like “Slash” and “Sting” from dreaming up goofy names: “So, Slash, what inspired you to give yourself such a kablooey type of name?”
Okay, we’re covering a lot of territory, and guess what that is? I mean the “covering a lot of territory” part. That just happens to be a metaphor. A metaphor is when you say something that isn’t precisely true – no actual geographic “territory” was covered – but that suggests that it’s like that technically untrue thing. But you can’t say, “like” because that would make it stop being a metaphor and start being a simile. And you can’t have that, can you? Yeah, I’m, like, getting a headache too.
On the other hand, there are words and phrases that are completely contradictory, like “military intelligence” and “The Affordable Care Act” and these can either be considered oxymorons or lumped under the more general rubric of “bushwa.” Hey, how about this word I just made up to denote an irrational fear of palindromes: “aibohphobia.” Get it? I wonder if migraines are covered under the Affordable Care Act?