Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Linguistic Interlude

You know what’s kind of weird when you think about it?
That pretty much everyone in America would understand
what you were talking about if you said, for instance, that
you were going out to the bar in “a wifebeater and a pair
of jeans”. Isn’t that odd? Somehow the language has
transformed the term “wifebeater” so that it no longer
has to describe a violent, abusive man. Now it can also
describe a piece of fabric. It seems to me like a pretty
cruel name for a kind of shirt, actually. I mean, is do-
mestic abuse so banal that we can name articles of clothing
after it? Doesn’t that imply that something is wrong with

Another expression that gives me pause is “going postal”.
I think we’re getting farther and farther away from the actual
source of that term: heading to your place of employment
with a bunch of automatic weapons and shooting everyone
in sight. But, according to the unwritten rules of slang, I
could legitimately say I “went postal” if I got into a passive-
aggressive snit at work because Barb in Accounting ate the
last doughnut again. In fact, it is more flattering to me to
think that I’ve “gone postal” than to think that I’ve thrown
a temper tantrum. So this is one of those modern colloquial-
isms that allows us to feel better about our bad behavior by
draping it in a faux-rebellious nomenclature. What’s that
you say? I just threw a bunch of paper clips on the floor,
stomped my foot on the office carpeting, and refused to
clean up the coffee-maker even though it was my turn? I
can’t help it! I just go postal sometimes, I guess! But you
don’t. What you do is act like an asshole, which is entirely
different. The only circumstances under which the term
should be applied are (a) you work in a post office or (b)
your disgruntled antics at work involve actual firearms.
That’s just the way I feel about it.