Archive for the ‘lost meanings’ Category

“We’ll do 90 minutes, … mano-a-mano, Donald and me.”

In lost in translation, lost meanings on January 27, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Ted Cruz, Fairfield Iowa, Jan. 27

Either Ted Cruz really wants to physically duke it out with Donald Trump, or I hope his Cuban-born father Raphael will give him a mano-a-mejilla (mejilla de la cara o de la nalga*, I don’t really care) lesson in Spanish.

I’m just sick of this misrepresentation of a phrase that’s come so strongly into use by speakers of English. But even worse, for me, is to hear it misused by someone presumed to have an inkling what it really means, whether through his heritage or his position as Senator from Texas. Certainly it also irks me because it’s so testosterone poisoned, with its implication that males, especially “ethnic” males, enjoy more important kinds of battles than anything involving a “womana.”

What could hand-to-hand combat possibly have to do with running for President, either? Is it some kind of proof of hawkishness, as if a President Cruz or Trump would be taking on opponents on the world stage in this style? While I’d rather see international disputes settled by champions than by armies, I shudder as much at the thought of either of these men playing that role as I do at picturing them at a real negotiating table, where the risks involve such threats as nuclear war. But that’s another discussion for another venue. Here, I’ll try to stick to language.

Maybe he really wants to arm wrestle.

*My advanced-Spanish-student cousin, Sara Kilker, knew enough to question a Peruvian friend, who says mejilla isn’t really used for nalgada, but this being a rant about English, I’m going to stick with the parallel construction, which I find funnier.


“Nancy Pelosi is incredible!”

In lost meanings, thoughtless patterns on January 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Sure as I am that Siobhan “Sam” Bennet, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund, meant that as an enthusiastic compliment when she said it on a recent episode of PBS’s “To the Contrary,” I just as surely wish she wouldn’t provide fodder for nitpicky critics. In fact, I wish we all could find some better words for expressing our admiration than those that imply the person or idea is literally too good to be true. Women like Rep. Pelosi — or Bennet, for that matter — are not fantastic or in any general way unbelievable. Neither are they terrific. Wonderful, maybe, but not wonderous.

Late in September, I was pleased to hear, on another public-broadcasting staple, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” a very funny exchange in which she teased author JR Moehringer with his published dislike for the overused “awesome.” They also touched on “amazing.” But at least those two mean what they’re overused to say, even if most applications actually fall short of the power those words should carry.

I just hate to see words lose their real meanings. When we have plenty of truly incredible politicians around, let’s find a way to get enthusiastic about the credibility of the others.

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