The English language continues to amaze. For me, the big loss this year was a change in format in the Edison electric bill I receive each month. The new format, probably birthed by focus groups, is bigger in paper size, font, and easier to read overall. The problem is that it refers to “Your New Charges.” The old Edison bill instead referred to “Current Charges.”
What a loss. There was something elegant, almost Shakespearian, about “current charges” from Edison. Indeed, the few times I called the power company for whatever reason I asked the Edison representative if any others had noted the term “current charges” and yes, there are indeed others who broke a smile monthly.
English is like that. As the Bard demonstrates even centuries later, it is a language of endless pun and nuance. One of my sons is studying childhood obesity and notes that even the most scholarly tracts can’t resist goofy titles: “Obesity: A Growing Problem.” Newspapers have a field day – perhaps my all time favorite headline appeared on the front page of the Times years ago: “Soil Erosion: US Losing Ground.” And then there was “Bar Fight Leads to Change of Heart,” a story about a town bully killed in a bar brawl whose relatives became organ donors.
Regarding nuance, no word I can recall has transitioned more in my lifetime than “intelligence.” It used to commonly mean God-given-smarts and in the heady days of the science-friendly 1950s, your Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was a big deal. The opposite of intelligence was stupidity, or just plain dumb.
Somewhere along the line the word “intelligence” got hijacked by the CIA, NSA, and 14 (count ‘em) other federal surveillance agencies as well as police and a myriad of other public authorities. Now intelligence is blithely used by many to mean information gathering. The opposite is in-the-dark.
Yet there is no common replacement word for God-given-smarts.
Being old school I refuse to give away the real meaning of “intelligence” to the CIA or any other spy group. The results can be hysterical. George W. recently stated that his biggest regret was the “intelligence failure in Iraq.” What about the dumb Katrina mess, or the stupidity of goosing the national debt? Dumb is dumb is dumb at home or abroad.
Even Poppa Bush is in the act. There is a “George H.W. Bush Center for Intelligence” complete with a highway road sign on the outskirts of Washington DC. This intelligence thing must run in the family.
My all time favorite torture of “intelligence” was bandied about after it was clear that there were no WMDs in Iraq. The complaint coming out of the Bush Administration was not just a general lack of intelligence, but a lack of “human intelligence.”
Boy did they get that one right!
Our current President’s musings about the failures of intelligence would be downright hysterical were it not for the loss of life and squandering of national treasure.
Best to keep an old format Edison bill in the drawer and let “current charges” be my primary linguistic entertainment.