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By Dave Whitney
Guest Columnist

PLAYING WITH WORDS

I think it is the repeat of President Barrack Obama’s promise to “veto all earmarks” that Congress sends him, that brought to mind the great lexicon we live with in our version of the English language.

Obama’s no-earmark remark reminded me of President George Herbert Walker Bush’s, “Read My Lips - No New Taxes” promise that came back to haunt him when then presidential candidate William Jefferson Clinton replayed it time and time again, while putting a whooping on Bush.

But then Clinton didn’t leave office on any high note after trying to debate the meaning of “I didn’t have sex with that woman” and claiming to be the first president since Eisenhower to balance the federal budget.

Of all the events noted above, not a single one held any element of the truth thanks to our beautifully manipulated language if for no other reason.

You might say it is too early to determine if Obama’s earmark promise is kept, but rest assured that in a figurative sense it certainly will be, made possible by simply making a little adjustment in the language of Congressional overspending.

The word “earmark” is going to fade rapidly from the White House vocabulary, replaced with something new like “strategic investment” or “equitable distribution of appropriations.”

Who knows what they will call it? What we call “earmarks” today used to be simply “amendments” to appropriations bill directing a given portion of an appropriation to a specific target or district.

In Florida we still call them “turkeys.”

While we’re on the subject, don’t buy into the present propaganda that an earmark is simply a directing of money already in an appropriation to meet a given need. The total of any appropriation bill includes the cost of the earmarks. If they were not in the bill, then the total cost of the bill would be that much less. Simple math, which seems to have been neglected in our elected officials' learning years, will tell you that.

It’s like Clinton’s balancing of the budget. It wasn’t done in any single year in which he was president but rather by extrapolating government expenditures out over a future decade and then making the cuts in bills that had not yet seen the light of day, based on figures that would have made Merlin the Magician envious.

The same game goes on today in our “Pay-Go” Congress. They pay the cost of a current spending bill by reducing the cost of some future proposal that may or may not become a reality. Nothing ever really gets paid for and deficits grow so we just borrow more money from China to pay the bills.

CONGRESSIONAL RULE: NEVER CALL A SPADE A SPADE

Congress doesn’t “spend” money any more. Appropriations are now “investments”; but unlike in business when one invests, Congress doesn’t have to see a positive return in real dollars. It is satisfied only if its Return On Investment is some loosely defined result in what ever the currency of the moment may be, such as jobs, miles of new highway, dams, better living quarters for pigs, or whatever.

These expenditures are not offset by “taxes” in this modern age. Taxes have morphed into fees, revenue enrichments, permits, licenses, etc., etc.

None of this is really new. We’ve been playing with our language probably since the first English word was uttered. In my short 74 years I have seen many, many changes.

One that comes to memory quickly is from the farmer that lived next door to us when I was a child. He liked to drink, but his wife forbade it. So he bought pints of whiskey and hid them around his cow barn. His free-range chickens roamed through the barn at will, and he kept the appropriate chicken waterer full of fresh water.

Between his nipping while he worked in the barn, and us discovering some of his bottles and emptying some of their contents into the chicken water, he would eventually run out of whiskey.

If you’ve never seen a bunch of drunk chickens you’ve missed a real show. Kind of reminds me of our present-day Congress.

To get more whiskey, he would get his 1926 Plymouth coupe out of the shed and drive to town in his “machine.” Like most of the men of his generation, my neighbor never did have a car, an automobile, an SUV or any such thing; his old Plymouth was simply his “machine.”

Many things in my young life were more simply named. We never heard of a Human Resource Department, we simply went to Personnel when we needed information about our job or benefits, or lack thereof.

I once joined the American Association of Retired People but it got lost somewhere along the way and all I get today are solicitations from some insurance company – one that supported Obamacare because it viewed it as a new revenue stream and not necessarily a benefit for its members – from AARP.

REGIONAL DIALECT VARIATIONS

I spent my first 14 years in the North before going off to a part of Missouri referred to as “Little Dixie” to get an education. Later I moved to Florida where I have spent most of my life.

While up North, I used to “take” my friends somewhere, in the South, I learned to “carry” them where they wanted to go.

And I learned that while Kroger put your groceries in a “bag” up North that Piggly-Wiggly put them in a “poke” for you to “tote” home in the South.

My favorite “hunting rifle” in Florida has become, over the years, a deadly “assault weapon” in California.

Some of the words in our vast lexicon are regional in nature for sure. Some show cultural tendencies. Others, like those used by our politicians, seem to blow more in the political wind than in reality.

It’s simply the lexicon we live with.

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Copyright © 2011 —Dave Whitney

Dave Whitney is a retired journalist and adventurer who has won many writing awards. He was born and raised in central Ohio, attended school in Missouri, served in the US Army Security Agency, and migrated to Florida a half century ago. Author of four books, he is a former Associated Press writer/editor and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize during his writing career. As editor and founder of the Free Press newspapers in the Florida Keys he was the first publisher to pick up Frank Kaiser's "Suddenly Senior" column when it entered syndication. Whitney currently resides in Lakeland, Fla., after living 25 years in the Florida Keys. Write him at davewhitney@suddenlysenior.com

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