Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 1, 11:39 a.m.
A half hour ago, I was trying to catch up on email, text messages, posts, tweets – the bare necessities of life – and I heard NASCAR driver Christopher Bell say his car was “migrating” in the turns. I’m guessing he meant it was “wandering up the track” in the turns, though migrating takes a specific course and there’s not much wandering to it.
It’s just the latest word that is charmingly stupid on TV. Another of those words is “stupid” itself. “He’s so talented, it’s stupid.” Pitchers can’t “locate” their pitches. Sometimes they try to “elevate.” Most times commentators speak of “strategy,” they are really talking about “tactics.” Strategy is the game plan. Tactics is what to do on third-and-long.
My writing colleagues know of my stern opposition to the use of the word “carnage” to describe an auto racing crash. As a part of the dying generation that took Latin, I know the root of the word is “flesh, meat.” Carnage involves massive loss of life, bodies lying on a battlefield, the victims of slaughter. It should not be used for a bunch of modern centurions climbing healthily from their destroyed chariots. I consider such use of the word rather vulgar.
When most announcers say “mano a mano,” they use it as if it meant “man to man.” It means “hand to hand.” They say “literally” when they mean “figuratively,” its opposite.
To each his own. The President of the United States considers “impeachment” a dirty, filthy word. He thinks it so filthy that he screams that it’s “bullshit” on live TV. One of few areas President Twitter and I see eye to eye is that, for both of us, filthy words have changed.
Over time, the pronunciation of words changes, not to mention the meanings. When I was in school, “divisive” was “di-VI-siv”; now it’s “di-VISS-iv.”
If a person was “transparent,” one could see right through him. He was insincere. Now he’s a paragon of openness; he’s “accountable.”
Then are there the changes in meaning of “queer” and “gay.” My grandmother used to say anything she didn’t understand was “awful queer.” Every time I sing the Charley Pride song “Crystal Chandeliers” – … So you traded me for the gaiety of well-to do … And you turned away from the love I offered you … – I am aware of listeners snickering.
Most people care less about words than I. It’s because I am a writer, or, at least, that is my intention. On my good days, I am a writer. Sometimes I’m just a typist.
This is fair. I care less about engines than engineers.
Which brings me to a final topic. If a person majored in engineering, it doesn’t make him an engineer. He has to put it in practice. The NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is not an engineer. He’s a driver. He majored in engineering at Purdue.
I majored in history (and political science) at Furman. It doesn’t make me an historian. I make use of my double majors. Newman makes use of his, but by trade he is a racer, and that was the right call.
Much of what I know, I learned by trial and error. That’s why writers get gradually better.
Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.
The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.