Columns » Words

Words, Oct. 28

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Jump, jibe and wail:

"If Meg Whitman loses the California gubernatorial race because her actions didn't jive with her words on illegal immigration, she could become a sacrificial lamb for the rest of us."


Ernie Oakleaf writes: "That doesn't jibe with what I expect from a Los Angeles Times columnist." He continues: "Unlike the Jive Lady played by the late Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver) in 'Airplane!', I can't speak jive. But I do know that Way Out Willie gave them all a treat when he did that hand jive with his feet."

Mr. Oakleaf is having a gibe at the columnist. Maintaining the distinction between jibe, jive and gibe requires a certain attention to detail. The columnist is probably blaming his editor.


A writer in The American Prospect discusses the word faggot, and why it's offensive to gay men.

"Crom tells us that, in times when witches were regularly burned at the stake, gay men were considered too low to merit even a vertical pole and were thrown directly onto the blaze. (In the late 13th century, a 'faggot' was a bundle of wood.)"

I don't know about that gruesome etymology, but I know that fagot — one g — is still around: "A bundle of sticks, twigs, or branches bound together and used as fuel, a torch, etc." It was certainly in wide use in the 19th century when James Russell Lowell wrote an anti-slavery poem, "The Present Crisis":

"For humanity sweeps onward: where today the martyr stands,

On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;

Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,

While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return ... "


The comparison of the legislative process to the making of sausage is often quoted. Less so (the lawyers probably got an injunction) is the one about the judicial process. Ambrose Bierce defined a lawsuit as "A machine which you get into as a pig and come out as a sausage."

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