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Words, March 5

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“Around here the authorities have taken to painting dotted lines on the road, showing the paste eaters where they should point their cars while turning a corner. It doesn't work. Isn't it nice to know we're sharing the road with people who apparently flunked coloring in kindergarten?”

Paste eaters caught my eye. Is this a phrase in common use? The excerpt reads as though the writer expected people to recognize it. If it is in common use, why? Who are the paste eaters? How much paste would a paste eater eat?

A very limited survey in the office found no one who was familiar with the phrase, though there was speculation that it referred to slow drivers or stupid drivers or perhaps both.

Research on the Internet seems to have produced an explanation. If I'm reading this right, a comedic television program, “The Daily Show,” had a pre-election segment on “stupid voters,” and a pseudo-pundit broke the “stupid” bloc down into various subcategories — paste eaters, tiger petters, shaved gorillas, and so on. The routine was well received, evidently.

 

“A similar resolution [for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment] died in a House committee in 2007. Rep. Lindsley Smith, D-Fayetteville . . . predicted success this time around. ‘I see us totally ratifying it this time.' ”

Rather than partially ratifying it? Halfway approval isn't really an option; the legislature must ratify the amendment in toto, or not at all. Rep. Smith knows that, of course. She merely followed a fad — that of using totally to mean something on the order of “definitely,” as in “I'm totally going to jump-start the economy,” which is more or less what President Obama told Congress last week. Incidentally, jump-start is another word much misused and overused these days. Every start is becoming a jump start, the way every storm has become a fire storm.

 

O is for the offspring that she gave us:

“OctoMom offered $1 million to make a porno.” A vivid coinage.

 

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