Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Even more cool new phrases to drop casually into conversation

Every household has its own code words and phrases that outsiders simply can’t penetrate. But I want to share mine with you, not only because they’re insanely cool but also because – if you spread them among your own friends and family – they might just take over the world. Then not only will everyone imitate my speech, lisp and all, but also I will finally be able to ban long beards and car radios, make my cat a senator, instate Voodoo as the universal religion, and rename the months of the year after myself and my family members.

Your participation is truly appreciated.

a gypsy check(noun phrase) Borrowed from the Spanish la mirada del gitano, this could possibly be the most useful contribution ever made to the English language. A gypsy check is the last look around before you ‘pack up the tent’ and leave a motel room, hospital room or anywhere else you’ve stayed for a while. The gypsy check ensures you haven’t inadvertently left behind indispensable items like your phone recharger, toothbrush or secret stash of emergency raisins. If the waiting taxi driver asks why you’re on all fours looking under the bed, just casually say, “I’m doing a gypsy check,” and you’ll never again be accused of having OCD.

Gogolian specificity(noun phrase) I’m going to tell you what this is at the risk of giving away my greatest blogging secret and revealing myself as a fake. Gogolian specificity, a word which I swear I read in some academic treatise years ago (therefore, it must be real), is, in my understanding, a satirical device epitomized by one of my favorite authors of all time, 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogolian specificity is choosing a specific item as opposed to a generic one, for instance “Big Red” instead of “chewing gum”. Don’t ask me why this is funny: it just is. In fact, if you’ve ever read some of Gogol’s works, like the short story The Overcoat, you’ll know that he was seriously (though bitterly) funny. I’m not funny at all, not on paper or in person: just ask my husband. But because attempting to be lighthearted is a lot more fun than depressing everyone with my status as a poor starving writer, I like to give humor a go. And thanks to Gogol and his specificity, I sometimes have some degree of success. Yes, the man who starved himself to death after burning part of his final manuscript in a state of depression and possible madness, is my sole key to humor.

immortality project(noun phrase) Shamefully stolen (from whom, I haven’t the foggiest), this phrase so succinctly wraps up a very complex concept that it has saved me many breaths which would have otherwise been wasted in circumlocution, possibly as many breaths as saved by the word “circumlocution” itself. Immortality projects are all the things we are working on to ensure that we leave behind meaningful traces of ourselves after we die: having children, publishing books, discovering plutonium. Immortality projects are not very Zen, in that they have nothing to do with living in the present moment. What is one to do? But as much of a conundrum as this issue is, it is nonetheless what we call in my household a “high-class problem”.

But that’s another blog post.


  1. Hi Heddi, I've got two of these, alas in French but I'm sure you can find an excellent translation. They involve a slang verb that you won't find in hardly any dictionnary (and whose sound I just love): "schmouter" meaning "to reek, to stink".

    So, here's the first one: anti-schmout. You see, I have a female colleague who doesn't knwo that "anti-schmout" exists and can be freely purchased in any supermarket you like; that's why she "schmout"s in summer time from under the arms. I couldn't live without my anti-schmout (you have guessed that that's how I call my deodorant).

    In analogy to this, when lazy me takes his shower in the late afternoon (that can happen on rainy Sundays), then chooses a T-shirt, the next morning, I don't consider it dirty the next morning. But just to be on the sure and safe side, I lift said T-shirt and do the famous "schmout-test": I smell the underarm bit; if it smells of washing powder or deodorant, I will keep it for the next evening; if it smells schmoutily, it goes into the dirty laundry basket. A very very effective test, that "schmout-test".

    With that, I wish you and your family a merry merry Xmas and a happy New Year, my dearest Heddi! And I send you my warmest and kisses from Paris xoxoxo

  2. Thanks, Dieter, that's a brilliant one - both semantically and grammatically speaking - and I might just adopt it myself. It inspires me to list some of the German words we already use in our household and there are many (my husband speaks German).

    Your Christmas hug has warmed my day: I send one right back at you from a relatively summery Downunder. xo

  3. These are all very good to know - and I indend to use them! First off, I suppose that I am already working on the immortality project, as you are too. Whether or not anyone will believe in it as I do, remains to be seen.

    Secondly, I get a kick out of Gogolian Specificity - though it doesn't always work in my writing. I like writing things like, "It took him 4.5 seconds" ... but the ladies in my writing critique group don't think it's as funny as I do.

    Third - I didn't realize I was a gypsy, but I must be! I have done the Gypsy Check and have been since college when I lost my wallet the first week of my freshman year and since then have ALWAYS looked behind me whenever I leave a public room.

    It's such a relief to have a name for my compulsions. :-)

    I hope you had a lovely - albeit warm - Christmas!

  4. How lovely to see those 'new' phrases in someone else's writing, Gretchen! I personally like your 4.5 seconds. Mostly, I like 4 seconds as opposed to the usual 5, which has almost become meaningless.

    Merry Christmas to you too, and 'Happy Writing'! And here's to this year bringing us two gypsies a boost to our respective immortality projects!