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Words Nov. 3

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Not rashness but rest:

“While it will take a long time to restore a sense of normalcy in many places, the town is finally getting some much needed help, residents said Friday.”

Back to normalcy is a famous catch phrase of American politics, popularized by Warren G. Harding when he was running, successfully, for president in 1920. What the country needed after the turmoil of World War I, Harding said, was “Not heroism but healing, not nostrums but normalcy.”

Critics derided Harding’s choice of words — normality was correct, they said — and for years afterward, pundits used normalcy only in a facetious manner, surrounded by quotation marks. But apparently it was a bum rap for Harding. Normalcy seems to have been dictionary-sanctioned even in 1920; it was just rarely used. Today, normalcy is listed in the dictionary with no reservations attached, and it appears in print at least as often as normality.

Like fellow Republican Spiro Agnew 50 years later, Harding (or his speech“It is good to meet and drink at the fountains of wisdom inherited from the founding fathers of the Republic.”

Got me:

“ ‘This is not a gotcha scenario,’ said Steve Faris, D-Central, co-chairman of the subcommittee. ‘This is an information gathering scenario.’ ”

There’s a lot of gotcha going around, Howard Lee Kilby of Hot Springs has noticed. He “I have recently begun asking people who say ‘Gotcha!’ where they first heard the term. It seems to me this expression may have begun with a TV program or a movie in the ’70s. I didn’t see it, but I vaguely remember something with that association.”

It’s just a snappy way of saying “got you,” obviously, and I have no idea who started people saying it. If anybody remembers a TV show that used gotcha conspicuously, Mr. Kilby and I would be grateful for the information.

It’s pretty clear that gotcha is unrelated to hotcha, a slang term of the 1930s that was “used as an expression of approval or delight.”

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