Yeah, That Word, the One with the Dashes in the Middle

I don’t usually think about swear words very much.  When I was growing up, we usually called it cursing or “dirty words,” although back when I was a chat host on AOL, we referred to such language as “profanity and vulgarity” or just a “violation of the Terms of Service.”  I had an old aunt who referred to such talk as “blue.”  But my favorite description of all time is the one used by Lillian Gilbreth in Cheaper by the Dozen.  She referred to strong language as “Eskimo.”  I don’t think you can say that today, lest it cast unwarranted aspersions upon the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Back in my Orthodox Jewish elementary school, swearing was an expellable offense.  Word was that one of our fourth grade cohorts may have disappeared from our class for just such a reason.  I don’t recall ever being tempted to let loose with an unbecoming epithet in my childhood or teenage days.  Such language was all too familiar to me because, well, Dad, and the Bronx, and um, need I say more?  And if my parents started one of their epic screaming arguments, well, that’s all she wrote, my friend.  May as well stuff cotton in your ears and call it a night.

It seems crazy to me now, but in my early working days, I had not one, but two jobs in which the boss and another employee would regularly go at it in a darned good imitation of my folks.  This was before I understood what the word “harassment” really meant.

Thanks to working for a government agency where we keep it clean, and thanks to the FCC and its infamous seven-second delay, I pretty much keep the seamier side of the English language out of my life.  When I venture onto Netflix or pay to see an R-rated movie, well, it’s not like I don’t know what I’m getting myself into.

Then came President Donald Trump.  Apparently, the man is a legendary pottymouth from Queens.  The rumors of his colorful language that swirled about his candidacy have only proliferated since his election.  I’m concerned that this is a bad influence on children and, well, the rest of us, too.  However, I’m not at all certain of which came first, the chicken or the egg.  Does the president’s choice of words give the public permission to follow suit?  Or has such language already entered the mainstream to the extent that we should expect to hear it and read it everywhere, including in the White House?

I have always loved words.  I have the utmost respect and admiration for dictionaries.  I am fascinated by etymology.  I enjoy word games, crossword puzzles and, especially, Scrabble.  In that respect, I owe a debt to our filthy-mouthed politicians and our squeamish media outlets.  For much to my delight, I now find word puzzles appearing in the news almost daily, and not in the works of Will Shortz either.

Take the title of an article that was posted by sfgate.com, one of the Bay Area’s favorite news sources, on the fourth of this month.  The headline reads “Trump reportedly said ‘f—k’ several times during a meeting with Nancy Pelosi, and later apologized.”

I was excited.  How could I rest until I had solved this word puzzle?  The possibilities seem endless.  Based on my disillusionment with our president’s performance, however, I think the offending word was likely “fink” (think Michael Cohen), or perhaps “funk” (think of the president’s popularity numbers).  It has occurred to me that the words “folk” and “fork” would also fit, although I doubt that Trump’s intellect rises to that level of erudition.

The problem, of course, is that we have no rules for playing this game.  For example, does the pair of dashes published online indicate that exactly two letters must be inserted to solve this puzzle?  Or could the dashes be a mere indication that some unknown number of letters are missing and must be supplied by the solver?  In the latter case, which would permit the insertion of three or more letters, the number of possibilities expand to something approaching the infinite.  Among the likely candidates are “flask” (the president clearly needs one in his hip pocket these days), “flack” (think Sarah Huckabee Sanders), “flak” (self-explanatory) and, my favorite, “firetruck” (we’ll have to talk to Melania about that one).  Even the word “frisk” has been suggested to me, but we may have to wait to see whether the House pursues impeachment proceedings for that one.

Oh, but it gets worse.  And I mean much worse.  As if the media’s Trumpian word puzzles weren’t enough to leave us scratching our collective heads, Pennsylvania newspaper The Morning Call recently reported that newly-elected member of the House of Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) publicly suggested that Trump won’t serve as president much longer, as Congress plans to “impeach the m———–.”

Now this is enough to give a cruciverbalist apoplexy.  Starts with M?  I mean, shoot and tarnation, that’s not much of a clue!

At first, I thought perhaps the word was “macroeconomist.”  Nah, can’t be.  Obviously, it’s something that’s not very nice.  After all, opinion writer Molly Roberts pointed out in The Washiington Post that the mystery word means “somewhat more unpleasant than ‘unpleasant’ can convey.”  Hmm.  Perhaps the word is “meconium,” that is, if Tlaib’s intention was to equate the president with baby poop.  Clearly there are too many dashes there to indicate “moron.”  “Mephistopheles” is a nice long “M” word.  Could she be referring to the Prez as a devil?  I thought for a moment that the word might be “Malvolio,” which means “ill will,” but I really can’t see Trump as having much familiarity with the Bard.  Perhaps Tlaib is a smart cookie whose intent was to use an epithet that is far beyond Trump’s vocabulary.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that Tlaib called the Donald a “miscreant.”  Admittedly, this isn’t a very nice way to refer to the leader of the free world.

Oh, fiddlesticks!  I guess its better than being referred to as a “mugwump” or a “milquetoast.”

 

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SiriusXM? Yes! Well, Maybe . . .

I’ve been having an on-again, off-again love affair with SiriusXM satellite radio for more than a decade.  I first discovered XM when several of its channels appeared under the AOL Radio menu back before XM’s 2008 merger with Sirius.  I was enchanted that there was a way for me to listen to all ‘70s music or all ‘80s music (the good stuff, as far as I was concerned) for free.

Alas, nothing good lasts, and this was no exception.  This was a trial, or an enticement, or whatever you choose to call it.  XM soon dropped off the menu, and then AOL itself slowly disappeared not long after, once piece at a time, like the Cheshire cat.  About the time that only the smile remained, we purchased a new car that came with a trial subscription to Sirius.  I had seen its dog logo around, which, with a wrinkled brow, I associated with Howard Stern.

Nevertheless, we soon figured out how to tune the radio buttons to SiriusXM and I was delighted to find the same stations I had enjoyed on AOL, plus more.  Country?  Oldies?  Classic rock?  Whatever I was in the mood for seemed to be available.  I pulled a bucket seat up to the smorgasbord.

When the free trial ended, however, we did not subscribe.  As fun as this was, we weren’t about to actually pay for it.  After all, by this time we had iPods loaded with our favorite music that we could plug right into the dashboard anytime we headed out on the road.

Later, SiriusXM started sending us promotion after promotion in the mail.  Most of these we threw in the trash, as they became nearly as ubiquitous as the AOL diskettes of a previous era.  I suppose it pays to never give up, however.  One day, SiriusXM called to offer us some free months of service.  Free?  We’ll take that, thank you.  At that time, we lived out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where we able to pull in few radio stations.  The timing was perfect, as we began to tire of the same music over and over from our iPods.

At one point, while my parents were visiting us, the service went out for some reason.  I explained to my father that I just had to call a toll-free number and have them send a signal to the satellite.  He seemed amazed.  Back in the day, he told me, when you had to fix a car radio it was terribly hard work because you had to dismantle most of the dashboard to get at it.

After enjoying a few months of free service, we called to request an extension because I was out of work again and, sure enough, they gave us two more months free.  Eventually, we ran out of luck.  At one point, we nearly paid for service, but canceled immediately when we couldn’t seem to get access on all our devices.

However, it soon became apparent that we were spending a bit too much on iTunes in an effort to refresh the music on our phones.  Every time I heard a song that struck my fancy, I’d add it to my wish list, which became quite lengthy.  When SiriusXM sent us an offer with a reasonable rate for an entire year, we jumped at the chance.

I must say that my addiction can be a bit embarrassing.  Why does it seem that every time my boss drops by my cubicle to talk to me, I have the ear buds in and I’m bopping away to the beat?

It looks like I’m in deep.  First, SiriusXM brought back its all Billy Joel show on Channel 30 (yep, the same one that used to be on Channel 18 before they once again shuffled the numbers like a satellite deck of cards), a favorite that I’ve discussed in this space before.  It brings me back to 1970s Saturdays hanging out in my parents’ rec room, burning up my Dad’s old turntable.  Memories: Explaining references in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” to my younger sisters.  Memories:  Flipping my father’s car radio on and finding “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” while Dad ran into a convenience store on a freezing cold night to buy me a half-gallon of milk before dropping me off at the college dorm.  Memories:  Referencing the lyrics to “Allentown” in a college term paper and scanning the liner notes to The Nylon Curtain album in an effort to properly footnote the source.  Thank you, SiriusXM, for reminding me of so many places I’ve been in what now seems like another life.

Oh, well (hanging head here), it gets even worse.  I was flipping through the SiriusXM channels when I ran across an all-1940s show.  Now, I don’t claim to be old enough to know this music firsthand, but it reminds me of the big band numbers introduced to me by my father while I was growing up.  Later, after college, I worked the night shift and listened to the sounds of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s on Radio WNEW-AM (eleven three-oh in New Yooooork!) into the wee hours.  I was thrilled when a familiar Glenn Miller Orchestra tune came on, but most of what I was hearing was new to me.  And here it is again on Sirius XM Channel 73!  Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Benny Goodman, even Sinatra.  I have a tendency to get stuck here for several days before I sheepishly creep my way back to BJ the DJ.

We won’t talk about my foray into Sirius XM’s Christmas music stations during the holidays.  (Anyone else here remember “Daddy, Please Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas?”)

But, alas, I am a truly fickle music fan, and it never takes more than a week or two before I start longing for the crazy, eclectic collection of tunes on my phone.  I begin to crave Melissa Etheridge, Lee Brice, The Manhattan Transfer, Bob Seeger, George Strait, Pink Floyd and The Boss, one right after another… with maybe a little Joe Jackson, Katy Perry, John Lennon, Little Big Town and The Waitresses thrown in for good measure.

In the end, the category list and all those numbered channels on SiriusXM can never substitute for my own carefully curated playlist culled from the past sixty or so years of popular music.  And, let’s face it, my SiriusXM subscription won’t last forever.  Who knows whether I’ll be willing to pay to renew?

Um, what’s that you say?  Three free months?

Well, now you’re talkin’.