(Roughly) Daily

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”*…

 

A view for the 1950s…

Interviewing Governor Rockefeller recently on Station WMCA, Barry Gray, the discless jockey, felt the need to ask his guest a certain question. He also felt a clear obligation to put the inquiry in radio-televese, the semi-official language of men who promote conversation on the air. Though it is more or less required, this language is a flexible one, leaving a good deal to the user’s imagination. ‘Governor,’ Mr. Gray said, after pausing to review the possibilities of the patois, ‘how do you see your future in a Pennsylvania Avenue sense?’ I thought it was a splendid gambit. Another broadcaster might have said ‘How do you see yourself in the electoral-college picture?’ or ‘How do you project yourself Chief Executive-wise?’ The Gray formula had the special flavor, the colorful two-rings-from-the-bull’s-eye quality, that I have associated with the work of this interviewer ever since I began to follow it, several years ago. For the record, Governor Rockefeller replied, ‘I could be happier where I am.’ He might have meant Albany, he might have meant the WMCA studio. As you see, radio-televese is not only a limber language, it is contagious.

The salient characteristic of remarks made in radio-televese is that they never coincide exactly with primary meanings or accepted forms. For instance, Mr. Gray, a leader in the postwar development of the lingo, has a way of taking a trenchant thought or a strong locution and placing it somewhere to the right or left of where it would seem to belong. ‘Is this your first trip to the mainland? How do you feel about statehood?,’ I have heard him ask a guest from the Philippines on one of his shows (the program runs, at present, from 11:05 P.M. to 1 A.M.). On the topic of Puerto Ricans in New York, he has said, ‘How can we make these peo­ple welcome and not upset the décor of the city?’ …

Artie Shaw, a musician, in describing the art of another per­former to Mr. Gray, said, ‘He has a certain thing known as “presence” — when he’s onstage, you can see him.’ Another guest declared that the success of a mutual friend was ‘owing to a combination of luck and a combination of skill.’ ‘You can say that again,’ Mr. Gray agreed, and I believe that the guest did so, a little later. The same eloquence and the same off-centerism can be found today in the speech of a wide variety of radio and television regulars. ‘Parallels are odious,’ Marty Glickman, a sports announcer, has stated. ‘The matter has reached a semi-head,’ a senator — I couldn’t be sure which one-said at a recent televised Congressional hearing. ‘I hear you were shot down over the Netherlands while flying,’ a video reporter said to Senator Howard Cannon, a war veteran, on a Channel 2 program last winter. …

Perhaps the most startling aspect of radio-televese is its power to move freely in time, space, and syntax, transposing past and future, be­ginnings and endings, subjects and objects. This phase of the language has sometimes been called backward English, and sometimes, with a bow to the game of billiards, reverse English. Dorothy Kilgallen, a tele­vision panelist [above], was wallowing in the freedom of the language on the night she said, ‘It strikes me as funny, don’t you?’ So was Dizzy Dean when he said, ‘Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s doubleheader.’ Tommy Loughran, a boxing announcer, was exploring the area of the displaced ego when he told his audience, ‘It won’t take him [the referee] long be­fore I think he should stop it.’ …

Ted Husing was on the threshold of outright mysticism when he reported, about a boxer who was cuffing his adversary smartly around, ‘There’s a lot more authority in Joe’s punches than perhaps he would like his opponent to suspect!’ It is in the time dimension, however, that radio-televese scores its most remarkable ef­fects. Dizzy Dean’s ‘The Yankees, as I told you later … ‘ gives the idea. The insecurity of man is demonstrated regularly on the air by phrases like ‘Texas, the former birthplace of President Eisenhower’ and ‘Mickey Mantle, a former native of Spavinaw, Oklahoma.’ I’m indebted to Dan Parker, sportswriter and philologist, for a particularly strong example of time adjustment from the sayings of Vic Marsillo, a boxing manager who occasionally speaks on radio and television: ‘Now, Jack, whaddya say we reminisce a little about tomorrow’s fight?’ These quotations show what can be done in the way of outguessing man’s greatest enemy, but I think that all of them are excelled by a line of Mr. Gray’s, spoken four or five years ago: ‘What will our future forefathers say?’

From John Lardner’s “Thoughts on Radio-Televese” in The 50s: The Story of a Decade, via the always-worthy Delanceyplace.com.

* George Orwell, 1984

###

As we cover our ears, we might send transformative birthday greetings to Publius Ovidius Naso; he was born on this date in 43 BCE.  With his older contemporaries Virgil and Horace, Ovid was one of the three canonical poets of the Golden Age of Latin literature.   His poetry was much imitated in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages, and has had a tremendous influence on Western arts and culture; for example, his love elegies (Amores and Ars Amatoria) are the ur-model of love poetry.  But his impact was surely greatest with the Metamorphoses, an  epic poem in 15 books of hexameter that catalogues transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar; it remains a key source document of classical mythology– and a great read.

The first taste I had for books came to me from my pleasure in the fables of the Metamorphoses of Ovid. For at about seven or eight years of age I would steal away from any other pleasure to read them, inasmuch as this language was my mother tongue, and it was the easiest book I knew and the best suited by its content to my tender age.

– Montaigne

Ettore Ferrari’s 1887 statue commemorating Ovid

source

Written by LW

March 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

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