Thursday, November 18, 2010



Now that Sarah Palin is credited with the best new word of the summer - or was it the year - it is time to tell the critics to hush on this particular proof of her lack of knowledge of real English and confess that we've all been there.
When she used refudiate on a Twitter message, we all knew (A) there was a good reason the new fad starts with twit (B) what she really meant.
So the Palin that deliberately uses folksy language to talk to the conservatives, red necks and chuckleheads of the U.S. doesn't have to resort to arguments that Shakespeare used new words too. People understand. And my mind simply refuses to make the comparison with our greatest writer since the huntress who talks about mamma bears when she wants to shoot a vote is hardly capable of a real sentence - let alone a sonnet.
Today's great riddle in the U.S. is to try to figure out her IQ. Does she have hot flashes of insight to break up the expanses of dumb logic? Or is she just a pretty face who doesn't do her homework? The 50% who approve of her in polls are forgiving the gaffes, family scandals, lies, fibs, half-truths, and self-marketing, so what's a mangled word.
There isn't a leader or a pro talker or even a parent who doesn't occasionally trip over words and names. Generally they slur into the proper word. Consider how often loving parents call one son by another son's name, and they never get over it, or you use a word that is wrong but sounds right.
However, it's nonsense for some dictionary company to ordain a malapropism as some great new word. I love those year-end lists of the best new words, which often are clever linkage of words or puns - my own creation was anecdotage - but let's not get into mangled language. Besides, it's all just a PR gimmick to get some attention, like the worst-dressed list by a designer than no one had ever heard of before.
So I excuse Palin and understand her but pray she doesn't keep doing it. There are already too many screwing up good words and old expressions. For instance, I give a damn that so many write they "don't give a tinker's damn. " The expression means that something is as worthless as the temporary DAM that was used when a tinker soldered a kettle.
Another reason I'm not bothered with refudiate is I made a worst mistake in front of millions watching the main CBC news show. I was the guest expert on the National for the 1985 provincial election. Because the Ontario race was undecided for so long, there were three Nationals that night, one for the Maritimes, one for central Canada, and one for the West.
So there I was, bathed in hot TV lights for three newscasts in a row, knowing that my boss, Doug Creighton, would be furious that his new Sun Editor was out of the office for hours, trying not to look stupid when anchor Barbara Frum asked her insightful questions.
At one point, and horror has scrubbed the actual non-word and timing from my memory, I used a word that doesn't exist. It wasn't even close to anything. Frum, startled, looked at me closely and repeated my awful creation. So I bluffed and said it again, as if Frum should know. As a nice pro, she went on to another question. But at the next off-air break, she said: "John, there isn't such a word." I said, "of course there isn't, Barbara. But you don't have to try to point that out before millions."
I returned to the office where an irate Creighton lambasted me for my absence and insisted that I had to write the editorial saying the Tories should end their reign because they got only 52 seats and the Grits had almost as many at 48. I appealed to Paul Godfrey, arguing that if a newpaper backed a party, it shouldn't abandon it election night. So that's the way the editorial read, although Creighton was mad for weeks.
That election is famous at Queen's Park. And I had a ringside seat at the changing of the guard.
The Lieutenant Governor was John Black Aird, who looked like just another corporation lawyer, but he had been a populist success. He had the humanity to learn sign language and travel widely, even playing floor hockey at Variety Village with the disabled kids, despite excruciating back pain.
Aird, a former Liberal insider/bagman, sensed beforehand that the election would be close. So his adviser, the famed lawyer John J. Robinette, showed up at 9 a.m. the next day to review his powers as to who should rule.
Two days later, on May 4, Aird came to an honours luncheon at the Toronto Press Club. Knowlton Nash, the legendary CBC personality, whose famous voice is stilled by disease, knew Aird, and so did I. Without preamble, he dragged both of us off to a private corner, asked what we would do about the near dead heat, and explained his options.
Perhaps it was the rum. Perhaps it was the thrill of apparently being consulted before a major decision. But Nash and I said plainly that the electorate was vote-weary. If Aird was to allow or suggest that the 48 Grits join with the 25 New Democrat in some pact, most voters would accept that as better than another election.
After Aird left us, Nash, who had begun as a wire-service political reporter, and I knew then what was going to happen. "This is a scoop," Nash said. I agreed. Then I said that while Aird, the gentleman, hadn't said it was off-the-record, we were in a club and that was the normal rule, and I thought that Aird expected us to behave honourably. And Nash agreed.
When it was announced the Liberals and New Democrats had formed an "accord" that would last eventually two years, there were at least two journalists who weren't surprised at the change of government.
Yet Bob MacDonald, the vitriolic Sun columnist, poured his acid all over Aird for allowing his Grit cronies to rule. I never did confront him and refudiate his views.

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