Contents | April 2002
In This Issue (Contributors)
For more by Barbara Wallraff, see "The Court Record.
See a collection of Atlantic articles on language.
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The Atlantic Monthly | April 2002
ho knew that the lyrics to "Amazing Grace" can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song? ("Amazing grace! How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me! / I once was lost, but now am found; / Was blind, but now I see." "Ta-dum-dum-dah, ta-dee-dee-dee / Ta-dum-dum-dah-dah-dee," etc.) Well, the Reverend Monsignor Richard Soseman, of Princeville, Illinois, knew it, and shared the information with Word Fugitives in connection with our December request for a word that would mean "taking a lovely song and changing one or two words to make it vulgar." This practice is similar to one that has from time to time claimed Soseman's attention—namely, "taking sacred lyrics and singing them to secular tunes." Soseman lamented, "Once heard this way, they never sound the same again."
by Barbara Wallraff
A number of other readers sent in examples of vulgarized lyrics (thanks so much, folks!), thereby earning themselves the right to be called by whatever a name would be for people who do this, which was a related word fugitive being sought. A few readers suggested bawdlerize and bawdlerizer, and others scat and scat singer. Lori Corbett, of St. Anthony, Idaho, suggested misongeny and misongenist.
Not every respondent sent in a matched pair of words. Mike McDonald, of San Francisco, played around with mondegreen, which The American Heritage Dictionary defines as "a series of words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric," to get mondeblue for naughty lyrics. A group identifying itself as "The English Class of the Ministry of the Interior," in Bonn, Germany, wrote, "We would like to suggest mislieder. This act, of course, would then become mislieding." A number of people suggested songwronger, and others leericist. Romy Benton, of Portland, Oregon, suggested ribaldefiler; Steve Groulx, of Cornwall, Ontario, opporntunist; and Nancy Schimmel, of Berkeley, California, verse-vicer. Diana K. Colvin, of Portland, Oregon, suggested the cute humdinger as a word for the singer, though it might work equally well for the song.
Colvin was also one of a few readers who submitted perversification—but she was beaten to the punch by Peter Grant, of St. Catherines, Ontario, who sent in the clear and clever companion form perversifier nine days earlier. Grant, therefore, takes top honors—so let's all sing him a rousing chorus of "Four-Cheese Tamales and Jell-O."
The other fugitive requested in December was "a gift that, truth be known, the giver secretly hoped to take possession of for himself." Janet Lafler, of Alameda, California, wrote, "In my experience, every family has a different name for this type of gift, such as train set or Ping-Pong table." Sure enough, the responses to this question invoked family lore having to do with water skis, a red wagon, goldfish, a basketball, a catcher's mitt, and a child-sized replica of Joe Namath's football uniform.
From the archives:
"The Buying of Books" (February 1922)
"Sometimes, when I have bought a book that I did not need and am a little ashamed to go home, I make an inscription in it: 'To my dear wife, upon her birthday; many happy returns.'" A minister confesses to his insatiable appetite for new books.
Amy Houchen, of Portland, Oregon, declared, "The term already exists: it's sidesaddle." According to Houchen, this term originated with Peg Bracken, who wrote in her 1964 etiquette book I Try to Behave Myself, "'Sidesaddle' is our family's name for that good book you give your husband because you want to read it yourself or the croquet set that the croquet fan gives a member of the immediate family for the whole family to enjoy."
But a more intuitive term from a different writer earns top honors here for Leo Standing, of Lennoxville, Quebec. Standing wrote, "This type of gift has been known for half a century as a rebounder." He recalls learning the word from an anecdote of Gerald Durrell's, in which Durrell, as a budding young zoologist, gave his mother a wild animal for her birthday and his gun-loving brother Leslie presented her with a large revolver.
Now Gerald Brown, of Pebble Beach, California, writes, "Is there an antonym for synergy?"
And Vicki Yuen, of Las Vegas, writes, "As a soccer coach for kindergartners, I encourage the kids to become comfortable controlling the ball with either foot. There's a word for this with the hands: ambidextrous. Surely there should be one for the feet. I've used ambifooterous, as ambipederous sounds awkward. It always gets a laugh, but is there a proper word for this?" Actually, Word Fugitives doesn't much care if there is a "proper" word. We'll be content to find Yuen a good one.
Send words that meet Gerald Brown's purposes to Word Fugitives, The Atlantic Monthly, 77 North Washington Street, Boston, MA 02114, or visit the Word Fugitives page on our Web site, at www.theatlantic.com/fugitives. Submissions must be received by April 30. Use the same addresses to submit word fugitives that you'd like The Atlantic's help in finding. Letters become the property of Word Fugitives and may be edited.
Readers whose queries are published and those whose words are singled out for top honors will each receive, with our thanks, a selection of recent autographed books by Atlantic authors. The next installment's correspondents will be sent Warrior Politics, by Robert D. Kaplan; The CEO of the Sofa, by P. J. O'Rourke; and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 2002; Word Fugitives; Volume 289, No. 4; 144.