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Jargon jury has lots to chew on

The political campaign season is heating up and vague catch phrases are careening through the headlines. So, Clear Creek Ranch’s Road Association/Wednesday Night Poker Committee has something to chew on besides the usual stale corn chips.

“Why is the president’s wife called the ‘first lady’?” the dealer asked. He never risks a dime on less than four of a kind. We all folded and waited for the answer, which is much truncated here due to word-count restraints.

The term came from the Italian “prima donna,” the lead singer in an opera. Which is not quite the same as Natalie Maines’ position among the Dixie Chicks, but that explanation elicited a few glimmers of understanding in our group. Most politicians might be keening away in Italian for all the sense they often make.



One young neighbor showed up late wearing his baseball cap backwards. Recently from the big city, he still refers to our idyllic, rural, one-lane road community as “the hood.”

His arrival launched the dealer into a long-winded monologue on urban slang and fashion, questioning why white kids in the sticks emulate black kids in the city. And what was “black” anyway, since Academy Award-winning actress Haile Berry, whose genetic makeup is more than 50 percent (white) European, is considered black?




The young guy righted his cap, explaining it was turned around because he’d been milking his black and white cow. Which launched our dealer into “mad cow disease” and how this “cute” term made light of the very serious problem of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (and ignores completely the underlying question of whether humans should be eating meat at all).

The dealer continued to shuffle and pontificate. In recent headlines, officials referred to drug addicts as “tweekers.” Makes them sound like Saturday morning cartoon show characters.

Officials constantly try to sound cool by using urban street slang when referring to drug users. Who are they trying to impress? The proper term is not “crank” or “meth,” it is methamphetamine, which sounds like a chemical compound, not a piece of candy. It is probably the only five-syllable word most drug addicts know, other than incarceration.

Someone mentioned that a local “Substance Abuse Advisory Committee” had been formed. Are they going to offer advice on how to abuse “substances”? Gravy is a substance. If I pour some on my cornflakes, is that “substance abuse”? And if I induce a child to follow my example, is that then “child abuse”? What is the proper “use” of a child, anyway?

Of course, the substances are “controlled substances,” or more simply stated, drugs. So, why not call the committee the “Drunks and Drug Addicts and What To Do About Them Advisory Committee?” The name would better define the group’s objective.

And is an advisory committee a “government organization” or a “nongovernment organization,” aka an “NGO”? Local politicians who differ philosophically with some groups of constituents are trying to demonize them as “NGOs.” Why not claim they have “kooties”? NGO is a vague term, even for a politician, since it could apply to any assemblage of two or more people: a family, a Cub Scout pack, or the Gravy-on-the-Cornflakes Support Group.

The answer will have to wait. Someone at the poker table mentioned wild cards, and not all of us remember who “the man with the ax” is. (Perhaps me, grinding mine.)

Now the dealer is launching into his dissertation on playing cards, the tarot, and the Catholic Church. I may be cashing in early this evening and returning to my NGO here at Clear Creek Ranch.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com.


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