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Not pleasing to the pallet:

Caption for a newspaper photograph — “Bob Jones of Jacksonville watches a monitor slip from a palate of used computer equipment Wednesday afternoon at a free electronics recycling drive at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.”

Toby Fair of Maumelle writes concerning our June 1 discussion of “not room to swing a cat”:

“I remember reading a first-aid manual for animals that contained instructions and illustrations for helping cats who had drowned. It was somewhat graphic but showed literally swinging a cat by the tail in a large circular pattern in an effort to clear the lungs. Perhaps this is where the phrase originated?”

It’s possible, but I never read or heard of anything like that. And the expression has a hostile ring to it. I’m inclined to believe that whoever originated it was not the sort of person who’d be giving first aid to cats.

Evidently ombudsman is being shortened and de-sexed in the same way that chairman became chair in some quarters. This is from Extra!, a magazine of media criticism: “On April 16, Washington Post ombud Deborah Howell responded to critics who questioned her about the paper’s puzzling editorial.”

An ombudsman (the most common form of the word) is a person who investigates complaints against the government agency or private company that the ombudsman works for. Ombudsman is in the Random House Dictionary, along with ombudswoman and ombudsperson. Not ombud. But ombud is actually the first-born, according to the Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Ombudsman came into English from Swedish in the 1960s and ombudsperson in the 1980s, as people began to seek gender-neutral terms. Ombudsperson was largely ignored however, according to the CGEU, which adds, “The suggestion that the original Swedish provides its own gender-free term (ombud) was taken up in some American universities but has had little impact elsewhere.” Except the Washington Post, apparently.

In the late ’60s or early ’70s, one of the more progressive Arkansas legislators of the time, Rep. Cal Ledbetter Jr. of Little Rock, sponsored a bill to create the position of ombudsman in state government. It didn’t pass.

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