Listening to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald read from the Rod Blagojevich taped phone conversations might have been one of my 2008 Top 10 "Happy to have witnessed that moments" even in what was a busy year of political gaffes. Fitzgerald's thoughtful substitution of the word "bleeping" for the word "fucking" while trying to accurately quote Governor Blagojevich apparently made a similar impression on William Saffire, who in this Sunday's New York Times, dedicated his weekly On Language column to an etiologic discourse on the words we use to categorize our own dirty words and deeds.
The Blagojevich reading, coupled with Saffire's column, also reminded me of the old Seinfeld episode where a love interest of George's summarily recounts her weekend plans with an ex by saying they had dinnner and then "yada, yada, yada. I'm very tired." This invocation of the girlfriend's "yada" placeholder differs in some respects from Fitzgerald's substitution game, in that the former leaves the juicy details open to the listener's interpretation while, in the latter, no self-respecting adult would be left wondering what Fitzgerald really meant.
The subtle but deliberate choice of words to both say and not say what we mean is a fascinating science - one that many people don't give much thought to. Jeremy Butterfield's book Damp Squid in layman's terms tries to help us think about just that. Since reading his book, I'm much more aware of the words I choose to use as a result. For example, a few nights ago, at dinner with a friend, I listened to myself attempt to answer the simple question - what will you do after your PhD ends? In Sarah Palin-esque like sentences, I jumped from stating the obvious, that at some point my studies here in the city will end, to a factual truth that in some fashion I will have to again get a job, to note that the job will undoubtedly have to have something to do with what I'm studying, that I could live anywhere I want to but London and Africa and the U.S. all of their draws, to a final thought that I am the type of person who has been lucky enough to know what she wants out of life.
In other words, I came to London, yada, yada, yada, and I still have no "bleeping" idea what I'm going to do next. Sadly, Butterfield's book doesn't seem to be of much help there.