Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

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Ride along for cranked posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lingua flak
    Lingually (Lingually? Really? Is that with the marinara or the clam sauce?) I consider myself a descriptivist keeping prescriptivist leanings at bay -- much more pop-cult Bill Bryson than strait-laced academic Mario Pei. I like to lie to myself that this applies to my more general outlook as well -- it's important to know the rules so you can break them, if not with impunity then at least with self-awareness.
    Take flak, a perfectly wonderful word. It's the antiaircraft fire thrown up first, I read, in World War I. And there are references that offer an implausible German acronym to explain its origins. Here it is.
    "Etymology: German, from Fliegerabwehrkanonen, from Flieger flyer + Abwehr defense + Kanonen cannons"
    Flak is incoming artillery against bomb-strafing airplanes, aimed at shooting them down or at least keeping them at bay. By extension, it's the noun you use to describe the person -- the human version of the war machine -- whose job it is to absorb the attack, to deflect it and protect its intended target from harm. In two words, PR folks.
    The person who takes the calls from a reporter -- assumed to be antagonistic and on the offensive -- is, therefore, a flak. Protect and defend.
    Only now it's flack instead.
    That's OK. It makes sense in only the way spelling in English can make sense. Sack, tack ... flack. Flak didn't fit and the language -- as our descriptivist friends would tell us -- molded it into what makes most sense, is easiest. So, flack.
    Only, I happen to know about the Fliegerabwehrkanonen business and so on and think it's elegant and whimsical and interesting and (I confess) right that way.
    But it's not. By usage and current reference it's now flack. The very same Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says flack, the noun for a public-relations professional, is "etymology unknown. 1939" These people are paid to know this. I must accept their judgment.
    My beloved American Heritage -- great photos, fantastic asides, relaxed authority -- hedges by giving the German origins of flak, listing "a publicist" as the first definition of flack and then, giving its superscript2 second listing as "Variant of flak."
    That doesn't help. Make a decision, American Heritage people.
    I've made my decision. It's flak. But I'm not pedantic about it. You can spell it however you wish.
    Ask me where I'm from next time we meet and get a version of this ridiculous conversation. Hint: Harry S Truman said it that way and there is not a wrong answer.

Thu, July 16, 2009 | link          Comments

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Immutable law

I've been away so long only because I awaited an eternal truth to share. It didn't occur to me the first day, so I said nothing. Also the second day, and my silence continued. So on. So forth.

Now, however, I am here. So, I must have been visited by revelation, no?

Here it is.

If there are Pop-Tarts in the house, I will eat them.

Thus has it ever been, thus shall it ever be.

Tue, July 14, 2009 | link          Comments


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