As a writer, I can’t deny harboring an appreciation for the richness of slang, metaphors, similes and colloquialisms.

And yet…there’s something not quite rational about the agitators who force our language to evolve. (“Come on, participle! Crawl up on dry land! That gerund is beating you!”)

There is an undisputed utility to manufactured terms such as “gerrymander,” “carpetbagger” and “flyover country,” but other linguistic innovations have been more frivolous. (Society’s onetime fascination with “cutting a rug” and “bees’ knees” did little to prevent the offshoring of textile jobs or our current pollination crisis, for example.)

The world has long needed more foster parents, a pathway to peace and a cure for cancer. Instead, we’ve had a procession of aspiration-challenged individuals who think they’re due a Nobel Prize because they decided money should be “dough,” coffee should be “Joe” and the word for a female dog desperately needed two syllables.

Self-restraint is a virtue, but we celebrate the anonymous linguistic philanthropist who whimpered, “Saying ‘police officer’ is so haaard. I’ve just got to say ‘flatfoot.’ Flatfoot flatfoot flatfoot – with a side of copper and fuzz!”

We just can’t be satisfied. (“I’ve got magnificent Pacific waves, a top-of-the-line surfboard and a bevy of bikini-clad girls; but something is missing. ‘Hang 10.’ That’s it! My life is complete. Wait…I didn’t mean that literally. Quick! Somebody coin a nickname for sharks! Aiiiieeee!”)

No wonder people try so hard to coin new words or phrases. The rest of us have always acted as enablers. (“Y’all ain’t gonna believe this stuff! I was just down at the club and Slim made a movement to shake my hand and said …wait for it…’gimme five!’ I’ll always remember this day, just like I remember when Pres. McKinley was assassinated!”)

In modern times we have had the legacy media (newspapers, TV, radio, the dark rings on wooly caterpillars) and social media for the swift dissemination of groundbreaking new figures of speech, but just think of how long our forebears had to wait for improvements.

Apparently there was a Johnny Appleseed of Slang who walked from hamlet to hamlet shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye! Scientists in Philadelphia have determined that the crookedness of an object can be measured against the curvature of a canine’s hind leg.”

I realize that cartoonists and jazz musicians have contributed a disproportionate amount of slang, but every subculture feels compelled to participate. (“You have a slightly enlarged left eyebrow, too? Let’s form a society and develop our own secret language! ‘Bad’ will mean ‘mediocre’ and ‘shoehorn’ will mean ‘myocardial infarction’ and …”)

We have convinced ourselves that civilizations such as the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas crumbled primarily because they did not have a word for “lickety-split” or “easy peasy.”

Oh, but who am I to stand in the way of the progress of language?

Before any more word origins are lost to the mists of time, we need a new Cabinet-level department to honor our unsung heroes.

“Here’s a mural of the first choir that was ever preached to.”

“On this historic front porch, a heart was blessed for the first time.”

“Please – refrain from using your cellphone at the Tomb of the Unknown Whippersnapper.”

Dude! This child of the Sixties has produced yet another essay that is “right on!”

Or at least right on its way to the bottom of the birdcage.


Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at

Trending Video

Recommended for you