Time for a New Dictionary
by Mark G. Brennan
by Mark G. Brennan
Looks like it's time for a new dictionary. The hardcover copy of The American Heritage Dictionary, a copy which my mother gave me as I left for college in 1982, now has such disgusting dirt stains on the edge of the pages from my persistent flipping through it that two conclusions jump to mind. First, either my logophilia knows no bounds or, second, I should wash my hands more often. For the last 24 years my hardcover AHD has served me well. I have looked up the word "Manichaeism" so many times that I finally highlighted it in yellow magic marker. While I can recite its definition verbatim, my limited intellect prevents me from actually understanding its proper definition, let alone correct usage. I can turn to "steatopygia" with my eyes closed after it appeared on a dorm mate's "Word of the Day" calendar and became a secret word among us sophomoric sophomores. But although I trusted my hardcover AHD to get me through all of life's major vocabulary crises, little did I know that it had misinformed on the definition of the simple word "again."
Even though I had heard the word "again" since my earliest childhood memories, I never had reason to question its meaning. Whether through context or repetition I always assumed that "again" meant just what the AHD said it meant: once more, another time, anew. While I never fell for the old joke where you tell someone, "Did you know that the word 'gullible' is not in the dictionary?," I was gullible enough to believe the AHD's definition of "again." After listening to President Bush's press conference on Tuesday, I am saddened to learn that my dictionary has been lying to me for these last two-plus decades. Old friends, soon departed — and you can keep my dirty paw prints on your outer facing edge as a sendoff!
At yesterday's news conference a reporter asked the President how he would respond to a woman, a waning Bush supporter, who told that same reporter outside a Cleveland hotel after the President's speech on Monday, "He's losing me. He's been there too long. He's losing me." Our commander-in-chief responded,
I also understand the consequences of not achieving our objectives by leaving too early. Iraq would become a place of instability, a place from which the enemy can plot, plan and attack. I believe that they want to hurt us again. (emphasis added)
Iraq will hurt us "again"? Like when the Iraqis flew the planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001? Like when they blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City in 1995? Like when they killed 230 Marines with a suicide truck bomb in Lebanon in 1983? If indeed "again" means "one more time," we should all dig deep into our memory banks for the initial incident that sparked such a usage of a seemingly simple word. Before you know it we could be on the receiving end of such ahistorical comments as the one which emanated from Mr. Blutarski in Animal House in which he tried to fire up the troops by reminding them about the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor. At least Mr. Blutarski used grammatically and syntactically correct English. Plus, his comical gross misinformation never caused anyone's death and in fact helped John Belushi's popularity, unlike President Bush's attempt to rationalize The American Occupation of Iraq.
Maybe we should ask Ricardo Barraza, Dale G. Brehm or Nyle Yates III how they would judge the President's use of the word "again." Unfortunately we can't since these three honorable Americans are the latest fallen soldiers, bringing the total number of "Americans No Longer with Us But With Whom I Would Rather Have a Beer Than Anyone in the Current Administration" to 2,311. Two Rangers and a member of the 101st Airborne, killed in combat so that Iraq can not hurt us "again."
One thing I will give the President credit for is his observation regarding the timetable for American withdrawal from The Occupation. Some toadying reporter asked the President if there will "come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?" Sounding like an eminent diplomatic historian of the 20th Century, President Bush sagaciously responded, "That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." While I am dubious of his claim that evacuating The Occupied Territory is an objective since it directly clashes with our global Wilsonian expansion and nation-building, I have no doubt that future presidents will be the ones who will have to grapple with the decision. On second thought, perhaps they won't grapple with any such decision as I have yet to see even the glimmer of a discussion regarding our occupations of Korea, Japan or the Balkans. As for any "government of Iraq" making such a momentous decision, and the United States actually agreeing to it, I would first expect to see the election of another Polish Pope again. Please tell me if I used the word correctly since my old dictionary is now lying in state.
March 24, 2006
Mark G. Brennan [send him email] writes from New York City.
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