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Wednesday, 02 May 2012


Mannie Sherberg
My go-to guy on all things slangish is the lexicographer Robert Chapman,who wrote what is -- for nerds like me -- one of the most entertaining books in English: "The New Dictionary of American Slang." Chapman says that "to hell in a handbasket" has nothing to do with the literal capital-H Hell; it is simply a metaphor for "deterioration" or "worsening" or "decline." A sentence like "Our economy is going to hell in a handbasket" is another way of saying it's "on the skids" or it's "going downhill." The sentence has no theological underpinnings, nothing to do with the fiery abode of the Devil. On the subject of Kerry in Cairo (alliteration unintended), I can only say that our entire foreign policy has gone to hell in a handbasket. Since the whole idea of discussing the "democratic transformation" of Egypt is a fool's errand, we can only conclude that the man who sent Kerry on the errand and Kerry himself are both fools. I would suggest that if Kerry ever chooses to write a book about his Egyptian escapade, he should title it "To Hell and Back."
Kerry has is the favorite to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State if Obama wins re-election. This is the man who picked John Edwards to be his running mate.
The "news media" today commonly uses the most severe and extreme way to say common or even mundane things. The one that currently irritates me the most is the abuse of the word "vow." "The Attorney General *VOWS* to eliminate the practice of [whatever] in the department." "Governor so-and-so *VOWS* to reform such-and-such." "President Bush *VOWS* to do this or to do that." Perhaps you've seen such things for yourself. In time, it will be forgotten that the word "vow" has (or once had) a religious meaning. Piece by piece, THIS IS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LANGUAGE. I say again, THIS IS THE DESTRUCTION OF LANGUAGE. Now today, in the midst of this now barren and desolate people, almost nothing has a religious connotation any more. But at one time, the phrase "going to hell in a handbasket" very much did. (In the interior of the U.S.--most of the current "red states"--until the early to mid-1980's, i.e., in living memory). The origin of that phrase is in fact religious (not theological, but religious nontheless), and its usage, until recently, was religious allusion. Now, after reading this article: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hell-in-a-handbasket.html look up the word "regicide," and trace that word back to Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I.

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