The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Friday, July 29, 2011

COLLECTIVE NOUNS: You may not have noticed this, but the English collective noun is a wonderful, often beautiful thing. For example, Anglophone crows travel in murders, whereas larks travel in exaltations, while below them float rabbles of butterflies flitting over clowders of cats as they hunt mews of capons, said capons no doubt mewing over their lost gonads, for which collective, I am sorry to say, I am unable to find a collective noun. Perhaps a scrota of gonads might work; I should propose the idea to the good folks at the Oxford English Dictionary and see how they like it.

There is another group that, unlike a capon’s gonads, are all too familiar to anyone who drives the highways and byways of this our Great Republic and, like the collective of missing gonads, do not have a collective noun of their very own. I am referring here to the slowpoke, the person who invariably in front of you when you are already late for work and insists on treating his need to lollygag and check out the barely descript scenery as somehow equal to your right to not have the boss cut you a new one for being late for the third day straight. You may not think so, but it is very important for slowpokes to have their own collective noun, given that slowpokes, like Japanese tourists, find it more congenial to travel in groups than to travel alone, thereby amplifying their power to make your morning commute nothing short of a living hell.

We’ve all had that experience, I think: no sooner have you gotten away from the senior citizen toddling along to the nearest drugstore to refill their prescriptions for damn near everything than you are stuck behind those good folks from Minnesota who’ve decided to slow down and take a good hard look at our happy little burg and see if there’s anything here that we don’t have back home in God’s country [we don’t; take my word for it and get moving. The only difference between Minnesota and the Vampire State is that we have uglier license plates.] , who will then leave you stuck behind someone trying to discipline a child, comb her hair in the rear view mirror, and hold a cell phone conversation simultaneously and doing none of the above very well. If you do not believe that this is important then clearly you have not been on the roads recently. Having their own collective noun makes it possible for the rest of the motoring public to know which profane, blasphemous, and/or scatological adjective to attach to this collective noun as we grind our molars into dust waiting for these people to make up their minds as to whether or not they are making the right or the left, going straight, or do 25 miles an hour in a 40 mph zone.

I thought at first that I would simply borrow a collective noun from an appropriate animal; it seemed a good idea at the time; and the number of appropriate animals seemed to promise a good return on the psychic investment. For example, I enjoyed learning that asses congregate in paces and droves, but in the end both nouns did not really work for me. While fully conceding the moral assitude of slowpokes, both nouns suggest actions at odds with those normally associated with the species. Slowpokes do not keep pace with the rest of traffic; the vile dolts do their best to disrupt the pace of traffic to the nth degree, thereby rendering the very meaning of the words pace and traffic moot; and slowpokes are, almost by definition, incapable of being drove anywhere, at least not without someone sticking a rocket up their backsides and lighting the fuse. No, clearly the asses will not work in this situation.

One may follow an ass with a run of salmon, but here to the adventurous lexicographer again runs into trouble, since running to and from any place is not high on the slowpoke’s list of priorities. I prefer the tortoise mildly, which gathers together in creeps; this works for me and creeps binds well with any number of expletives, but it does suggest that slowpokes are trying to advance a low, vile, and possibly contemptible agenda involving whips, chains, and the ingestion of large amounts of natural peanut butter, among other things. This would be unfair to them, because to my observation most slowpokes appear harmless in and of themselves; they are largely obtuse creatures and not at all creepy in the classic sense of that word, although they do come with a large amount of cranial sawdust, and for those of you keeping track of such things, yes, I am paraphrasing George Ade there.

Other nouns failed the test as well. Slowpokes cannot, like foxes, travel in skulks, since slowpokes do not really skulk as they slowly poke around the roads driving their fellow motorists up the wall; they commit their asininities out where everyone can see them, a trait the rest of us hate them for. Nor can there be a clattering of slowpokes, as there are of jackdaws, as clattering implies movement, and the one thing no slowpoke will actually do is move at a reasonable speed. And so I sat, stunned by the utter slowpokiness of my own imagination, when a word blazed across my mind with comet-like intensity, blazing with a white-hot heat, a word filled with subtlety and power, a word that might revolutionize the very meaning of collective nouns should I choose to unleash it on an unsuspecting world. Unfortunately, the word was coxcomb, a word that has nothing to do with speed, motion, traffic, or anything else relevant to the subject at hand, and so I instantly rejected it.

And then the word came to me in a blaze of glory…well, maybe not glory, but something like it, I think, unless that was my meatball sandwich repeating on me. Slowpokes, you will happy to know, travel in dumbasses. Dumbass works well with any expletive you care to mention, it is short and easy to remember, and it plays well with others. Having come forth with this miracle, I am thinking of copyrighting it and make a fortune off all the people who will use the word dumbass in a fit of road rage. I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of this before; it’s a lot easier than winning the lottery.

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