Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The awesome, queer, niggardly irony

One day soon, we are going to run out of words.

We so misuse, overuse, abuse and infuse our language. Many great words can’t be used because their real meaning has been lost.

“That is awesome, man. My car is awesome. My team is awesome. My new phone is TOTALLY awesome .”

Really? Awe is an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like: in awe of God; in awe of great political figures.

Your crap isn’t awesome. You might well like it, but awesome it ain’t.

For clarification, try this. Churchill is to awesome as Obama is to underwhelming.

Once upon a time, queer meant odd. Unusual. Out of alignment. It was a great word to describe something that seemed out of whack. “That’s a queer little house in the midst of these mansions.”

At some time a century or so ago, the word queer was used to describe homosexual men. In a derogatory way. Eventually, queer became a common slang term used in a negative connotation by heterosexuals. Queer became a way to put down someone who clearly wasn’t homosexual. “Oh, quit being a queer.”

Then, the word queer was adopted by homosexuals of all types as their own moniker. Like the television show Queer as Folk.

And now, maybe queer is bad again. I think it may have been replaced by gay. Which is misappropriating another perfectly good word. Do any of us now sing, “Don we now our gay apparel” and not have visions of Carson Kressley in our head? And thinking of that verse, when’s the last time you donned something?

So can I use queer or gay anywhere without causing a ruckus?

It’s become almost as difficult as the word black.

For example. Several years ago, in a mind numbing governmental meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners, there was a discussion of issues related to collecting unpaid traffic tickets. Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield stated, “It sounds like Central Collections has become a black hole.” Seems like a cynical, sad, true statement of missing money at a government agency.

But, no. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and other Dallas County officials said that Commissioner Mayfield had just uttered a racist statement and demanded an apology.

You see. Commissioner Mayfield is, er, white. Or flesh. Or Anglo American. Or Northern European American. Or a honky. I don’t know, but you get the point.

And the offended county officials were, well, black. Or Negroid. Or colored. Or brown. Or African American. Or Caribbean American. Anyway, they were offended.

That event took place about the same time that I and my son Zac got a great English lesson.

Zac was in the sixth grade at an upscale private school in Dallas. And one fine week, his English teacher handed out their spelling words. And on that list was the word niggardly.

Some quick background. Zac’s two best friends from the time he was old enough to walk until they moved away during elementary school years were twin brothers who lived across the street from us. Cody and Cory Hill. And they had a different skin color than Zac. Thankfully, not one of them ever thought anything was different about any of them. They were just kids.

When he transferred from public school to this private school in the sixth grade, Zac made a new best friend. His name was Chris. And Chris had the same color skin as Cody and Cory. Which was a different color than Zac’s. And Chris was one of about three kids in the whole school whose skin color was different than Zac’s.

Chris and Zac made each other laugh constantly. They could make eye contact and crack up.

And so when the teacher of English handed out the words of the week, Chris looked at Zac. And they both started laughing. And tears rolled down their 11 year old cheeks from trying not to wizz in their pants. Because they saw the irony in the situation.

And Zac got hauled to the principal’s office. Because the teacher assumed wrongly that Zac was misappropriating the word niggardly. And I got called to the principal’s office. And despite my protestations, Zac was suspended for a day for being racially insensitive.

From then on, I was niggardly with my donations to that school.

Oh, how ironic. Or was that coincidental? Or paradoxical? Or bad luck? Or, just plain dumb?

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