George Carlin had a routine he called “Syllable Inflation.” George’s example began with the first World War. At that time, “shell shock” (two syllables) was the designation for soldiers whose combat conditions stressed their nervous systems to the maximum extent, even reaching a point at which the soldiers “snapped.” As George Carlin said, it was a simple, honest, and direct term. During World War II, “shell shock” evolved to “battle fatigue”–now four syllables. “Battle fatigue,” said George, “didn’t seem to hurt as much.” Soldiers’ stress levels after the Korean conflict were referred to as “operational exhaustion”–eight syllables and now, according to George, “It sounds sterile”–not even like a human affliction. Soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War suffered from “post-traumatic stress syndrome.” That’s a decrease to seven syllables, but George pointed out that “there’s a hyphen to bury the pain under the jargon.” George closed this bit with a comment that, if the condition had remained as clear and direct as “shell shock,” many veterans might have received treatment in a far more timely manner. It’s been a long time since I heard that George Carlin routine (he died in 2008), but because of it, I’ve always been attuned to useless syllable inflation.
Like George Carlin’s syllable inflation, in Errors & Expectations (a book I read for my doctoral research), Mina Shaughnessy wrote that someone who has not learned the word “dregs” (one syllable) must say “what is left in the cup after you finish drinking” (twelve syllables, but Mina didn’t include the syllable count). When I hear an inflated word phrase like “wine bottle opener” (six syllables), like Mina, I want to teach vocabulary lessons and tell the speaker/author that we already have a word for that and it’s “corkscrew” (two syllables).
A long time ago, I started making a list of syllable-inflated words that I’ve heard and read, usually in newscasts and newspapers. (The list part won’t surprise people who know me well.) Here are some of the words from my list.
I was cleaning out computer files and found these. I assume they’re from my Aunt Ruth, my usual source of humor. I have no idea how old or recent these signs are. The Indian Hills Community Center in Colorado apparently changes the sign regularly, since some pictures have grass and some have snow. Enjoy!
Dire forecasts for February 2, Groundhog Day, and February 3 included huge (for our area) amounts of snow ranging from 6-13 inches, sleet up to 3 inches, and ice up to 0.2 inches, depending on where the freezing line fell. As we listened to the forecasts, it was a sunny 62 degrees and it seemed impossible that a major storm was brewing.
We, and apparently everyone else, chose to believe the forecasts. On January 31, the warm, sunny day, we went grocery shopping (packed store, empty shelves), we filled the cars’ gas tanks, gassed up the snowblower and started it to make sure it was working, and moved the chairs off the patio and into the pool area to make clearing snow from the patio easier. Schools announced cancellations of in-person classes in advance for February 2-3; businesses announced closings in advance; and grocery stores announced greatly reduced hours of operation for those two days. Forget the “Neither snow nor rain, . . .” adage. We haven’t had (junk) mail delivery for three days.
The forecasts were spot-on, so kudos to the NWS team and the TV meteorologists. The rain started after midnight on February 2, temperatures dropped far enough to produce a little ice, the ice changed to sleet overnight, and then the system dumped 4 inches of snow on us.
Ted and I both had doctor’s appointments on February 2. His doctor called on February 1 to say they would be closed and he needed to re-schedule. My doctor said he’d be open, so I hit the road. With so many things closed and the weather so bad, traffic was very light. Surprisingly, there was one bicyclist pedaling uphill on a snow-covered road. Only one traffic lane was usable, and the ice beneath the snow made driving tricky. I had to stay between 10-15 mph to avoid skidding, but I had no problems.
The Groundhog Day snow ended around 3:00 p.m., but another, larger accumulation was forecast for overnight into February 3, so Ted and I decided to go outside and clear the driveway, patio, and sidewalks. It’s easier to clear 4 inches than 8-12 inches. Then we made soup for dinner, lit a fire in the fireplace, and settled in for a cozy night with a movie.
February 3 brought more snow, lower temperatures, and 35 mph wind gusts. Thanks to the wind and drifting, when the snow finally ended around 4:00 p.m., I couldn’t see the snowbanks created by the snowblower the day before. Finding the edges of the concrete would be a challenge again. Can you find the driveway? It’s somewhere in the middle of that big, blank area.
At least the snowbanks around the patio showed me where the edges of the concrete were. See the icicles from the freezing rain? We only had about 0.1 inches of ice, but around an inch of sleet.
Finding the curves of the two front sidewalks (again) won’t be easy.
Before firing up the snowblower, I measured the snowfall. I measured a few hard, flat areas and they all showed 4 inches on Groundhog Day and 5 more inches on Groundhog Day 2. This spot on the pool deck shows that we had 8 inches total, but you can see that the snow dips toward the light in this area. With the wind, there was a lot of drifting, so some places were 5 inches deep and others were over a foot, depending on how sheltered they were. Isn’t the peaked snow cap on the solar light cute? The lawn chairs against the house look well padded.
Here’s a look at our patio chairs and some of the bushes. Also more solar lights with peaked snow caps.
It’s time to get to work. Again. I like using the snowblower, so I usually clear the large areas and Ted uses a shovel to clean up the corners the snowblower can’t get into. When I finished my snowblower work, Ted used it to clear two neighbors’ driveways for them.
It took an hour to clear the first 4 inches of snow, but nearly two hours to clear the next 5 inches the following day because of the drifting. Here, along the sidewalk beside the house, the snow was 13 inches deep–a real challenge for our small snowblower.
We have a layer of sleet on our back doorstep. Imagine sleet like this under the snow on the roads. MoDOT is short 400 drivers statewide, so the plows have been focusing on the highways. They just started plowing subdivision streets today. Roads could not be treated for ice in advance because of the rain that preceded the freezing temperatures, so driving is hazardous.
The snow didn’t end until about 4:00 p.m. on February 3. By the time we finished clearing it around 6:00 p.m., it was too dark for pictures. Today, the storm has moved eastward and we’re enjoying blue skies, bright sunshine, and a single-digit wind chill, with temperatures expected to drop to around 0 degrees tonight.
Here’s a picture of the pool. The weight of the snow is really stretching the pool cover springs! The ridges in the snow that cross the pool are the straps that hold the cover in place. We can’t identify the inner ridge going around the inside of the pool. The straps are anchored to the pool deck and only extend 12-18 inches beyond the outer edge of the pool, so that ridge is not the edge of the pool. You can see the lowered winter water level where the cover dipped below it, so it’s not frozen edges of the water either. Maybe we’ll find out when it warms up. Supposedly, the pool cover is strong enough for an elephant to walk across it. This isn’t an elephant, but wet snow is definitely heavy.
There’s the driveway! I found the edges.
See the white car camouflaged by the snow in front of our house? Ted asked the driver if she needed help and she said she couldn’t make it up the steep hill of the road beside our house, so she was going to walk home. Ted suggested that she turn around, go the opposite direction from where she’s parked (this upward slope is far less steep), and go around the loop to come down the hill to her house. She said no, she lives halfway up the hill. Huh? So she can only get to the middle by going up???
Yesterday, while we were clearing the snow, a different woman got stuck trying to make a left turn at the corner behind our house. I know she doesn’t know how to drive in snow because she kept spinning her wheels on the ice under the snow, trying to go forward instead of simply backing down the hill (there was no traffic) and (1) getting a faster running start to make it up to the corner, or (2) going around the loop like Ted suggested to the lady today and coming down the hill to the corner. Luckily, our neighbor, Super Steve (a carpenter), has a tool for everything, so he got out his towing straps and his pickup truck. Yes, he has real towing straps that he uses with his commercial-size riding lawnmower to bring his jet ski trailer from behind his house to his pickup on the street. He towed the lady around the corner and then preceded her to her house to make sure she had no further problems. Mission accomplished, so Steve continued around the loop, and returned to his house by going down the hill. Apparently, you can get to the middle of the hill from the top as well as from the bottom.
We used to get regular 8-12 inch snowfalls, but for many years, we’ve rarely had more than 4 inches at a time. This 9-inch snowfall was an Event for our area and it’s kind of exciting. As usual, I expect that within a week, the streets will be clear and dry and, except for the snowbanks, the lawns will be bare of snow again. That’s what I like about living here: snow, but not for weeks or months at a time. Now it’s only 45 days until the spring equinox, and we’ll be seeing forsythia and daffodils before that. Think spring!