Jewish World Review May 15, 2003 / 13 Iyar, 5763

Richard Lederer

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Consumer Reports

Language at the cellular level | Charles Harrington Elster, best-selling language author and my radio-active co-host on "A Way with Words," shares some phone-y thoughts about 2003:

I hereby proclaim 2003 to be the year of the cell phone, which is fast becoming cellphone so we might as well get with it. Everywhere you go these days you see people walking around with a cellphone glued to their ear. They’re jabbering away, oblivious to the effect they’re having on others—an effect that has been described (in The Dictionary of the Future) as "secondhand speech," the verbal equivalent of secondhand smoke.

What to call these cellphone addicts, these wireless public prattlers? Allow me to propose cellfish (or perhaps cellphish), which could also be employed as an adjective.

Now, what to call those few sad souls who still don’t possess the means of instant and constant communication? How about cellphless?

Finally, we need a word for the way these cellfish drive while they’re yakking on their cranial appendages. (And I think we can do better than badly or erratically.) Allow me to propose "celling out," or perhaps "cellin’ out" (on analogy with "freaking out," "dorking out," etc.), which we can define as "lousy driving caused by blabbing on a cellphone."

So there you have it: 2003, the Year of the Cellout. Y’all drive carefully now, y’hear?

We hear a lot these days about brinksmanship, especially regarding the crises in North Korea and the Middle East. But it should be brinkmanship. The first known citation is a February 1956 speech in Hartford, Connecticut, by presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson upbraided John Foster Dulles, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of state, for his near confrontation with Communist China and his "boasting of his brinkmanship – the art of bringing us to the edge of the abyss."

Once again the cursed gratuitous s – our penchant for tacking on an extra hiss — has struck our language. Here are other examples that prove we English speakers don’t know our s from a hole in the ground:

THE BUCS STOMP HERE, blared the front-page headline of the San Diego Union-Tribune on Monday, January 27. The reference, of course, was to Tampa Bay’s 48-21 route of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, played here in San Diego.

The punderful headline brings to mind this pun-ishing riddle:

What’s the cost of a two-dollar pair of earrings?

A buck an ear!

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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


05/08/03: I don't duck spelling debates
05/01/03: Find the hidden cats
04/10/03: The cat's got your tongue
04/03/03: Play Ball!
03/20/03: Categorizing Cat Words
03/13/03: Stood up by Oprah
03/06/03: The Word Circus: The Barker
02/27/03: Ana Gram, the Juggler
02/20/03: Spook etymology on the Internet
02/06/03: What's in a President's Name?
01/30/03: Twice in a Blue Moon
01/23/03: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
01/16/03: Retro-active words
12/19/02: Why I deserve welfare --- actual letters
12/05/02: English for -- make that "by" -- foreigners
11/21/02: Humorously Inclined Informational Products
11/14/02: Disorder in the Court: a Collection of 'Transquips'
10/31/02: Oxymoronology
10/24/02: The Bandwagon
10/17/02: Is life a movie? We all speak their lines
10/03/02: Brave New Words
09/26/02: English is a Crazy Language!
09/12/02: How wise is proverbial wisdom?
09/05/02: A celebration of presidential prose
08/29/02: Food for thought
08/22/02: Jest for the pun of it
08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2003, Richard Lederer