Sunday, May 31, 2009

Turning the Phrase (or is it the other way around?)

One of my tiny infamies is the fact that I do rather enjoy an oblique turn of phrase. The English language is so quirky and robust, that I don't think there is ever really an excuse that warrants boring conversation. The downside of this is that, on more than one occasion, a point that I feel I have made with crystal clarity like unto the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope has been met with either a dumbfounded stare, a sheepish grin, or outright hostility. I see this as just the cost of doing business, in addition to providing a litmus test for future interactions with that individual.

And so it is that when I am providing someone with cautionary advice that I will often say, "Well, you know what they say: 'forewarned is half an octopus'..." as opposed to the familiar and trite "forewarned is forearmed". I mean, how is the latter any fun at all, it's patently obvious and blatantly preachy.

Another stock answer of recent years comes courtesy of two characters from the short-lived "Muppets Tonight" television show from the mid-90s, Seymour the Elephant and Pepe the King Prawn. The two of them trot onto the stage in their vintage vaudeville costumes, and Pepe asks Seymour, "What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?" When Seymour confesses he doesn't know, Pepe looks at the audience, says "'Ell if I know!" and the two of them hold their hands out and wait for applause that never comes. It's a great bit, that has us coming back and seeing Pepe explaining the gag in his wretched Spanglish accent and using more and more detail to a slack-jawed audience that just cannot comprehend it. As a result though, when someone makes an inquiry of me that might necessitate a "How the heck would I know that?", I instead trot out, "What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino?"

The most recent story arc in the comic series Runaways, written by Joss Whedon, has a lot of moments that made me laugh out loud while reading it, which was unfortunate as I was reading it after midnight on a weeknight and my girlish tittering was interfering with my wife's rest, but I digress. In the first issue, one of the group gets saved from falling to his death by his telepathic pet dinosaur (long story, you should probably just start with issue 1. Trust me on this.), which leaps off a skyscraper, grabs the kid's coat with her teeth and sinks her great eviscerating toe-hooks into the building's side to stop their fall. Later on, when everyone else feels he must have perished, the team's youngest member, 11-year-old super-strong Molly, spins out an implausible survival scenario that perfectly matches the rescue the reader has just witnessed. The survivors crawl back up the building shortly after and the lad describes how they survived, and not a one of the listeners gives props to Molly for her supposition, which drives her to say, "I totally got it right what happened to Chase and nobody said anything! Why aren't you awesomed by me? " The second I read it, I knew Molly had just tossed a three-pointer into my lexicon. She has been my favourite character for while now, and seeing her almost kill The Punisher two pages later by punching him in the stomach ("How was I supposed to know he doesn't have super-powers?") is just icing on the cake; that guy takes himself way too seriously.

Relating this story to a friend of ours the other night at dinner, she mentioned sharing my affection for a good turn of phrase, and called her husband on the spot to make sure she was getting this one right. It seems they were watching Mythbusters recently, and there was something that required blowing up (as is often the case and just awesome). As they were setting up the charges, someone asked what they should do if anything went wrong. The explosives expert looked at the questioner, grinned and said, "Then we de-ass the premises, with the quickness." It immediately reminded me of the classic t-shirt caption "I'm with the Bomb Squad; if you see me running, try to keep up."

One of my work colleagues, a gentleman named Kevin, has expanded my vocabulary by at least two hand-made artisan words that I feel require immediate and widespread distribution, so if you readers could assist in this, I would be very grateful. Kevin has spent a fair bit of time studying and working in Mexico, and was telling some of us about his first trip out into the jungle. In his own words, "I had been really looking forward to this, you know, seeing the jungle, with the mystery and the exotic danger and all. Shortly after the bus dropped us off, I realized I had been there before. It turns out we have jungle in northern Ontario too, it's just that we call it bush. I was totally anticipointed."

"Say again?" I interjected. "You were what?"

"Anticipointed," he replied. "I had been filled with anticipation, but it turned to disappointed right there in front of me. When you have that big build up, disappointment doesn't really cover it, so, anticipointment."

A number of people listening to the story were nodding sagely at this, and I was one of them. "That is really an apt word," I said. "Did you come up with that on your own?"

"Oh sure," he grinned. "I invent blended words in our house all the time. My current favourite gets used when I forget to eat lunch and get cranky."

"I get that too," I said, "Especially if I go too light on the protein at breakfast. What do you call it?"

"Hangry," he replied, "Hungry plus angry equals hangry."

I've shared his words with a few people now, and I have every confidence that they will enter common usage in the very near future. Everyone will be awesomed by them.

Except at my house, where they already have been.

No comments:

Post a Comment