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May 5, 2015

A Changing Lexicon

Harry M. Covert

There is nothing funny, witty or humorous from Baltimore’s week of unrest. Usually through trials and tribulations pain in many instances can be assuaged with some harmless amusement.

Of course, events there have left no room perhaps for a smile or two, most assuredly the death of Freddie Gray, the rioters and the arrest of six police officers. Whatever you think of the situation and its effect on everybody, there have been some asides worth mentioning and give us a time out.

I learned a new word. It increased my vocabulary. Hearing it live on television gives it standing. I’m anxious to see if etymologists will find it acceptable. Maybe Webster’s and the Oxford dictionary folks will decide.

The word? It is “funeralized.” It was used to describe that Mr. Gray’s services were completed and he was laid to rest.

Sure sounds like a perfectly good description and worth regular use by professional officiants.

Over the next days lots of conversation will be centering around the words “hate speech.” To me, this ranks up there with “hate crime.” With no intention to minimize verbal profane portrayals of public “cussing” or debating whether all murders are hateful, all felonies can be considered “hateful.” I do.

This space has received some correction for using the word “paddy wagon.” All of my life and throughout my professional writing, it never occurred that “paddy wagon” use was an affront to Irish Americans. There was a time in the northeast of the country when Irish were highly arrested and lots of cops in those days were Irish Americans. I can throw in ‘Black Maria,’ too.

Personally the use of the word “thug” is not a racial term, nor are “mob” and “mobster.” How often have these words been used to describe the Chicago and New York criminals whose exploits have been glamorized by movies and television shows about such figures as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Vito Corleone, Dapper Don John Gotti and Bugsy Siegel. The “hall of fame” list is incredible and in the lexicon of the nation. They’ve been listed as “thugs” no matter what religious persuasion that may profess.

Those following the Baltimore events saw a lot of “people of faith” supposedly involved, trying to quell unease and looting, et al. I don’t recall mention of pastors described as Christians. In the new America, using the word Christian is anathema to those in the journalism trade, police officials, elected leaders and others. Admit it! It takes courage to use the word Christians in the faith events in these times.

In the land of free speech, and this is absolutely fundamental, protesters en masse were wearing black tee-shirts inscribed “F…” the police. Some of the audio may have been delayed during broadcasts, but the single-letter words did reach the public airwaves.

Cursing or cussing and profanity in almost every quarter has made its way into public discourse. And it is not strange to hear such comments from the young and old, boys and girls and mothers and fathers.

I was astounded to hear a Baltimore City councilman use the full “N” word during an interview, noting that the “thug” word was nothing other than the “N” word. This is tragic and evidence that good manners, even among leaders, may be a thing of the past.

Words matter and its high time educators and parents get into the business of teaching manners, the English language.

A teacher I know recalled an English-class where a student asked if she believed in “epistolary intercourse.” Hearing only the second word she blushed, sent him to the principal’s office. Then realizing he was asking about letter-writing, as a joke, she forgave him but only if he apologized for “showing off” and wrote asking forgiveness in cursive.

The “I” word above is not improper, maybe out of place for a laugh, and doesn’t rank in today’s slang with all the other “profane babblings” Thankfully I’m a long way from funeralized.


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