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Words, Sept. 18

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What did he vet and when did he vet it?

Many pundits have fallen in love with Sarah Palin. All of them have fallen in love with vet.

The talking heads can't stop talking about whether John McCain did or didn't give his vice presidential candidate a good vetting. To vet is “to evaluate for possible approval or acceptance; to examine closely.” In Britain, they've been vetting candidates and potential candidates for a century or so, but only in the last few years has the word come into use in this country, and not until now did it proliferate. The verb comes from the noun vet, short for veterinarian, and it originally meant “to provide veterinary care for (an animal) or medical care for (a person)” and “to subject (a person or animal) to a physical examination or checkup.” The extension to candidates and their records came later.

Another relatively new political term being tossed around is wingnut. This one even burst onto the funny pages the other day, a character in a comic strip defining the word, correctly, as “one who advocates extreme measures or changes.” It seems to me that liberals use wingnut more often on conservatives than vice versa, but then conservatives employ another term that they consider more insulting — liberal.

I suppose the traditional smoke-filled room is vanishing from political commentary now that hardly anybody smokes. The phrase is usually attributed to Harry Daugherty, an Ohio Republican. In 1920, he accurately predicted that Warren Harding would be chosen as the Republican presidential nominee by a small group of political bosses, “meeting around a table in a smoke-filled room.” 

 A magnet that only a mother could love:

While sentencing a man to 80 years in prison, a Pulaski County judge called the offender a liar, a cheat and a thief, but his mother stood up for him. “You might look at him like he is the scum of the earth,” she said. “He is not. He is a s**t magnet. If something is swarming around, it would come to him.”     

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