Archive for June 23rd, 2008

We have lost one of the English language’s unlikeliest defenders; George Carlin is dead. Carlin said that there were three arenas of life that informed his comedy: the world at large (war, politics, religion, etc.) the peculiar observational world of the comic (the “didja ever notice” stuff) and the English language… “the words, phrases, sayings and the ways we speak.”

And he was full of them. Apparently his mother inspired his love of language. She was a single mom and (I believe) a schoolteacher with an incredible command of the language. George tried to impress her by picking up as much of her vocabulary as he could, and she would challenge him further. Carlin’s example:

George: “Hey ma, care to peruse the newspaper?”

(He waits for praise. Instead…)

Mother: “I’ll give it a cursory glance.”

Over the years, Carlin railed against the sources of abuse of the English language. Whether theses abuses came from advertising, government bureaucracy or political correctness, Carlin was merciless. However, for me at least, his rants on the language made me want to get it right. And one specific example has stayed with me forever, the abuse of “irony.” Typical example:

Me: He was cutting his grass and a car jumped the curb and killed him.

Other guy: Wow. Ironic, isn’t it?

Me: How so?

Other guy: Umm, well, uh, I have to go now.

Carlin’s first book “Brain Droppings” is full of great examples of oxymorons, redundancies, euphemisms and just plain abuses. I will be rereading it today in his honor.

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