Bob Franken: Word fabrications
Faithful readers -- both of them (counting family members) -- know that occasionally I like to discuss lyin' language. Specifically, the focus is on phrases that express the exact opposite of what the user means. We've discussed before that when a company fires an employee, the memo invariably concludes with "We wish him well." That's code for "May he burn in hell." And during a romantic breakup, when the breaker tells the breakee "It's not you; it's me," she's really saying, "You're a total turnoff, plus you smell bad."
Sports is loaded with them. The pitcher who throws a brilliant game will always say, "What really matters is that the team won." Translate that to: "I was all that stood between victory and defeat for these bozos. I hope I get an endorsement contract out of this." And if his side still loses, it always goes, "My individual performance doesn't matter, we lost." He's really saying, "Who do you have to bribe to win a game around here?"
All of us are guilty. In my case, I can say I'm discussing this again because there's a need to infuse some clarity into our conversation. In truth, there's little to write about because Congress is out of town. There's a lot of handwringing about how the members flew the Washington coop for August recess with so much unfinished business, and you even had a few of them publicly agitating for the rest to stay. That's more lyin' language. What they're thinking is: "I hope they don't take me up on this. I've got a cushy junket coming up, and besides, the weather here this time of year is the pits."
Actually, we're seeing a little more verbal honesty in the Senate, of all places. Usually, strict rules of etiquette are observed. When one member calls another "my friend," he's really saying "scumbag." Until now. Suddenly, they're beginning to let it all hang out, which is a pretty disgusting thought when you take a look at some of them. Harry Reid, the majority leader, was trying to maintain a little order in the chamber as his colleagues were milling around. So he blurted, "Have senators sit down and shut up." That knocked the stuffing out of even the stuffiest member, so much so that they sat down and shut up.
Reid and his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are not even pretending they like each other. That's unprecedented, because Senate rules rely on cooperation to get anything done. At least that's how it used to be. A couple of weeks ago, McConnell declared that Reid might go down as the "worst Senate leader ever." Reid, meanwhile, charged that McConnell has "broken" promises, which is the cardinal sin in dealmaking. In the United States Senate, that is serious trash talk.
Even so, political lingo continues to maintain its high level of low-life insincerity. When President Barack Obama says he welcomes "open debate" on intrusive intelligence gathering: he's really saying: "We can't discuss this at all. It's classified." And when his espionage operatives talk about "national security," they mean their personal job security. It's bipartisan. Republicans talk about almost every Obama initiative as "job killing." That's why they try to sabotage almost all of them. If they succeed, after all, it's their jobs that might be killed. Now they're back home, and the GOP members, led by the tea partiers, are working hard at making the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, a big failure. They're operating hand in hand with groups openly trying to persuade young Americans not to sign up for insurance. If they're successful, they'll wreak havoc on the entire reform. They know that. What they say is that failure would be good for America, which really means bad for Barack Obama. But, happily, the members of Congress have left the Capitol for a while. We wish them well.
Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.