Am I overthinking slang?

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Tyrades! by Danny Tyree

As a writer, I can’t deny harboring an appreciation for the richness of slang, metaphors, similes and colloquialisms.

And yet…there’s something not quite rational about the agitators who force our language to evolve. (“Come on, participle! Crawl up on dry land! That gerund is beating you!”)

There is an undisputed utility to manufactured terms such as “gerrymander,” “carpetbagger” and “flyover country,” but other linguistic innovations have been more frivolous. (Society’s onetime fascination with “cutting a rug” and “bees’ knees” did little to prevent the offshoring of textile jobs or our current pollination crisis, for example.)

The world has long needed more foster parents, a pathway to peace and a cure for cancer. Instead, we’ve had a procession of aspiration-challenged individuals who think they’re due a Nobel Prize because they decided money should be “dough,” coffee should be “Joe” and the word for a female dog desperately needed two syllables.

Self-restraint is a virtue, but we celebrate the anonymous linguistic philanthropist who whimpered, “Saying ‘police officer’ is so haaard. I’ve just got to say ‘flatfoot.’ Flatfoot flatfoot flatfoot – with a side of copper and fuzz!”

We just can’t be satisfied. (“I’ve got magnificent Pacific waves, a top-of-the-line surfboard and a bevy of bikini-clad girls; but something is missing. ‘Hang 10.’ That’s it! My life is complete. Wait…I didn’t mean that literally. Quick! Somebody coin a nickname for sharks! Aiiiieeee!”)

No wonder people try so hard to coin new words or phrases. The rest of us have always acted as enablers. (“Y’all ain’t gonna believe this stuff! I was just down at the club and Slim made a movement to shake my hand and said …wait for it…’gimme five!’ I’ll always remember this day, just like I remember when Pres. McKinley was assassinated!”)

In modern times we have had the legacy media (newspapers, TV, radio, the dark rings on wooly caterpillars) and social media for the swift dissemination of groundbreaking new figures of speech, but just think of how long our forebears had to wait for improvements.

Apparently there was a Johnny Appleseed of Slang who walked from hamlet to hamlet shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye! Scientists in Philadelphia have determined that the crookedness of an object can be measured against the curvature of a canine’s hind leg.”

I realize that cartoonists and jazz musicians have contributed a disproportionate amount of slang, but every subculture feels compelled to participate. (“You have a slightly enlarged left eyebrow, too? Let’s form a society and develop our own secret language! ‘Bad’ will mean ‘mediocre’ and ‘shoehorn’ will mean ‘myocardial infarction’ and …”)

We have convinced ourselves that civilizations such as the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas crumbled primarily because they did not have a word for “lickety-split” or “easy peasy.”

Oh, but who am I to stand in the way of the progress of language?

Before any more word origins are lost to the mists of time, we need a new Cabinet-level department to honor our unsung heroes.

“Here’s a mural of the first choir that was ever preached to.”

“On this historic front porch, a heart was blessed for the first time.”

“Please – refrain from using your cellphone at the Tomb of the Unknown Whippersnapper.”

Dude! This child of the Sixties has produced yet another essay that is “right on!”

Or at least right on its way to the bottom of the birdcage.


Copyright 2024 Danny Tyree, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at [email protected] and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”

Controversial author Harlan Ellison once described the work of Danny Tyree as "wonkily extrapolative" and said Tyree's mind "works like a demented cuckoo clock."

Ellison was speaking primarily of Tyree’s 1983-2000 stint on the "Dan T’s Inferno" column for “Comics Buyer’s Guide” hobby magazine, but the description would also fit his weekly "Tyree’s Tyrades" column for mainstream newspapers.

Inspired by Dave Barry, Al "Li'l Abner" Capp, Lewis Grizzard, David Letterman, and "Saturday Night Live," "Tyree's Tyrades" has been taking a humorous look at politics and popular culture since 1998.

Tyree has written on topics as varied as, the Lincoln bicentennial, "Woodstock At 40," worm ranching, the Vatican conference on extraterrestrials, violent video games, synthetic meat, the decline of soap operas, robotic soldiers, the nation's first marijuana café, Sen. Joe Wilson’s "You lie!" outburst at President Obama, Internet addiction, "Is marriage obsolete?," electronic cigarettes, 8-minute sermons, early puberty, the Civil War sesquicentennial, Arizona's immigration law, the 50th anniversary of the Andy Griffith Show, armed teachers, "Are women smarter than men?," Archie Andrews' proposal to Veronica, 2012 and the Mayan calendar, ACLU school lawsuits, cutbacks at ABC News, and the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Tyree generated a particular buzz on the Internet with his column spoofing real-life Christian nudist camps.

Most of the editors carrying "Tyree’s Tyrades" keep it firmly in place on the opinion page, but the column is very versatile. It can also anchor the lifestyles section or float throughout the paper.

Nancy Brewer, assistant editor of the "Lawrence County (TN) Advocate" says she "really appreciates" what Tyree contributes to the paper. Tyree has appeared in Tennesee newspapers continuously since 1998.

Tyree is a lifelong small-town southerner. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in Mass Communications. In addition to writing the weekly "Tyree’s Tyrades," he writes freelance articles for MegaBucks Marketing of Elkhart, Indiana.

Tyree wears many hats (but still falls back on that lame comb-over). He is a warehousing and communications specialist for his hometown farmers cooperative, a church deacon, a comic book collector, a husband (wife Melissa is a college biology teacher), and a late-in-life father. (Six-year-old son Gideon frequently pops up in the columns.)

Bringing the formerly self-syndicated "Tyree's Tyrades" to Cagle Cartoons is part of Tyree's mid-life crisis master plan. Look for things to get even crazier if you use his columns.