Words at Play

ScaliaWhat a month! June 2015 was packed with major events – some good and some bad. Justice Antonin Scalia’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on the Affordable Care Act (often called “Obamacare”) was memorable in part for some of the words he used in delivering his dissent. He cemented his position as the Supreme Court’s logophile-in-residence when he referred to the Court’s decision as both “jiggery-pokery” and “sheer applesauce,” and declared that the ACA should be renamed “SCOTUScare.”

My dictionary indicates that jiggery-pokery is a Scottish term that may have started out as jokery-pokery – a rhyming term that is related to the word “joke” which can mean “something not to be taken seriously.” Similarly “applesauce” means nonsense or hokum. “Hokum” is derived from another term that means nonsense – “hokus-pokus.” To these rhyming pairs of words we can add “hanky-panky” and “flim-flam” which signify a sly trick or deception.

Justice Scalia has been known to use other obscure words to spice up his comments. Those words include “kulturkampf” which means “any serious conflict over values, beliefs, etc. between sizable factions within a nation, community, or other group,” and “argle-bargle” the meaning of which I found under “argy-bargy,” – an argument or squabble.

Justice Scalia’s made-up word “SCOTUScare employed the acronym SCOTUS which means Supreme Court of the United States. Other related acronyms include POTUS for President of the United States (possibly first used during Ronald Regan’s presidency), and FLOTUS for First Lady of the United States. I also found the acronym SLOTUS which refers to the Second Lady of the United States – the Vice President’s wife.

In Charleston, South Carolina a 21-year old delusional poltroon murdered nine people attending a Bible study session in an attempt to start a race war. Instead, the family members of the victims told him that they forgave him, and people of all colors came together to mourn the senseless loss of nine innocent lives.

When photographs of the murderer holding a Confederate flag were found, there was an outcry to remove that flag from public buildings throughout the south, and a number of businesses decided to no longer sell it. You might say that the combination of the murders and the photos of the murderer holding the Confederate flag brought about a sea change concerning the flag and its meaning. A “sea change” is a major transformation.

Twice in June I heard people on TV referring to the “mores” of the people. I noticed the word because the speakers pronounced it as though it was the plural of the word “more.” In fact, “mores,” which means “traditional rules or customs of a society or group” is pronounced “mor’-az” with two syllables.

All of this reminds me of the time when someone in my office handed in a travel expense report to our boss who was an Englishman with a fabulous vocabulary. Our boss returned the employee’s expense report with a notation that the traveler was guilty of sybaritic living. We all scrambled for our dictionaries to find out what that meant. Sybaris was one of many Greek cities founded in southern Italy. The inhabitants, sybarites, were said to be excessively fond of pleasure and luxury. We all got the message.

Neapolitan Ice Cream

And that brings me to my final entry on words in this post. Another Italian city founded by the Greeks is Naples or Napoli as the Italians call it. Believe it or not, this is related to the three flavor ice cream pictured above (which is a combination of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate). This ice cream became popular in Paris long ago. Many of the ice cream makers and vendors were Italian, so the ice creams were often referred to by Italian names. Neapolitans were the inhabitants of Naples, so the three-flavor treat was named in their honor. And why were they called Neapolitans? Because the original Greek name of the city was Neapolis (“new city”). When you consider the original name of the city, it is easy to see why its inhabitants were called Neapolitans.

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