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Words, Aug. 7

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“Kentucky limits toe grabs.” Seeing this headline on the sports page, I thought, “It's about time. Some wrestler will be seriously injured unless the refs get the toe-grabbing under control.”

But on further reading, it turns out the safety of two-legged athletes is not Kentucky's concern:

“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted to limit the length of toe grabs on horses' front hooves to no more than 2 millimeters long. The toe grabs, which help horses gain traction on the dirt, have come under fire after experts found they put too much pressure on the bones in a horse's front legs while running.” Pressure? When The Undertaker gets hold of your toe, that's pressure.

 

“John McCain's oral slips — invariably described as ‘gaffes' — are beginning to ricochet from liberal blogs to the mainstream media.” Every presidential candidate's mistakes are described as gaffes, and why is that? Admitting to our own, or (more easily) those of our acquaintances, we just say “I made a mistake” or “She made a mistake.” Perhaps the news media believe that presidential candidates are too refined to err in the same way the rest of us do. Hence, the gaffe. I imagine the candidates themselves don't say gaffe in private, especially if it was a big one. They use stronger language.

Safire's Political Dictionary says that a gaffe is equivalent to a blooper (“an exploitable mistake; a slip of the tongue, or unthinking comment, that can be seized upon by the opposition”), but I haven't heard blooper in years. The affected gaffe has driven it from the market.

 “Across the country in the spring of 1912 the campaign rhetoric escalated. Roosevelt described Taft as a ‘puzzlewit,' while the president labeled Roosevelt a ‘honeyfugler.' ”

Honeyfugler sounds like an epithet too strong to be used in public discourse, but in 1912 to honeyfugle (or honeyfuggle) was “To dupe, deceive, swindle.” I couldn't find puzzlewit, but the OED says that puzzlehead and puzzleheaded are applied to people “with confused ideas.”       

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