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Words, July 31

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Pundits use words in mysterious ways. Awhile back, commentators who reflect the conventional views of the ruling elite took to calling themselves “contrarians,” servility posing as rebellion. Now they've gone a step further, hurling “elitist” at underdogs.

Extra!, a magazine of media criticism, notes that elite “once had essentially two meanings: on the one hand, ‘a la-di-da word for the upper crust,' the fancy-pantsers chronicled on the society pages, and on the other a sociological description of the class that wields real economic and political power — say, the heads of corporations or government.” Then people in positions of power seized the word, being big enough and rich enough to do so (they own the mainstream media, among other things), and began using it on people who didn't share the ruling class's views, or support its candidates. Now, you can work at Wal-Mart, drive a used Ford, and drink tap water and still be called “elitist.” Only in America.

The chatterers never describe George W. Bush — the wealthy son of a president and grandson of a senator — as an elitist. He's a regular fellow, we're assured. And it's John McCain's opponents who are accused of elitism, not McCain, though he's third-generation Annapolis and married to a very rich woman who finances his political career.

“Twelve-string phenom Ron Delay leads a jazz trio that includes Progress Hornsby on standing bass and Les Ismore on drums.”

The term standing bass was new to me, and Roland Gladden, who plays one, says it's unfamiliar to him too. He has referred to his instrument as an upright bass on occasion, and a string bass more often, but usually he simply calls it a bass. He said that “standing bass” sounds like something a bass guitar player would say. Bass fiddle is another name, but I suspect it's out of fashion, though it and string bass are helpful in distinguishing the stringed instrument from the large horn that is also called a bass. That instrument was the inspiration for “Them Basses,” once in the repertoire of every high school marching band in Arkansas.        

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