Tuesday, March 14, 2006
A few of weeks ago, New York Times columnist William Safire wrote a language column that brought up George's Bush's (in)famous remark, made to his one-time director of FEMA. "Brownie, yer doing a heck of a job!?Of course, Mike Brown was not really doing a heck of a job, and he resigned in the wake of multiple screw-ups in the response to Hurricane Katrina. But the President's folksy praise of his ill-fated agency chief is much more memorable than the actual details of last year's hurricane relief. Safire's column suggested Bush's use of words - especially his avoidance of the mild oath "hell? - was an example of the President's common-man pretensions.
Maybe Bush was playing the God-fearing bubba to make us forget he went to Yale. But the use of a euphemism like "heck? is part of a long American tradition that I'm quite fond of.
Taboo is the mother of linguistic invention. And avoiding profanity has given rise to some of our most colorful and creative language.My favorite euphemisms steer us clear of blasphemy and strong biblical language. "Heck,? is just one example. The ban on taking the Lord's name in vain has brought us "cripes, crimeny, jeepers and jeez.?
God's damnation has been variously expressed as "dog gone, dad gum, gol darn and dad busted.? Country singer Roger Miller made clever use of euphemism when he sang, "Dang me. Dang me. You ought to get a rope and hang me.? Johnny Cash did something similar when he rhymed "dad blame? with "eastbound train? in his tune called Mean Eyed Cat.
How much poorer our language would be if everyone felt free to vent their feelings by just saying "God damn!?
St. Patrick's Day is coming up this week, and These Days will mark the occasion with a Thursday interview with one of the brewmasters of Ireland's venerable Guinness brewery. Fergal Murray has been traveling the USA to promote Guinness's strong creamy stout, which he says has been too confined in this country to dim Irish pubs. (No offense to dim Irish pubs, mind you.)
I once visited Dublin and I walked up to the gate of the Guinness brewery. The brewery is entirely closed to the public and it is surrounded by a high wall. As such, the place exudes the same air of mystery as Willie Wonka's fictional chocolate factory.
It turns out that when Arthur Guinness founded his brewery nearly 350 years ago, he arranged a rather long lease. The lease guaranteed the continuing use of the Dublin property at St. James Gate by the Guinness brewery for nine thousand years. No question... Arthur was thinkin' about the future.
The Guinness brewing company has a ways to go before it takes full advantage of its lease. But the cheeky optimism and the longevity of the Guinness company has, itself, been a wonder. So when St. Patrick's Day comes around, remember: Nations may come and go but beer is forever. And Guinness may not be far behind.