Want the world’s best adjective-noun combos? Your quest ends here

Woolly thinking.

As in this quote attributed to Tim O’Reilly in “The Oracle of Silicon Valley”:

“There is a wonderful rigor in free-market economics. When you have to prove the value of your ideas by persuading other people to pay for them, it clears out an awful lot of woolly thinking.”

The phrase is most often hijacked by headline writers for stories about sheep farming, hand-made sweaters and abrasive steel scrubbing products. Take it back from the punsters, won’t you? It deserves the usage as demonstrated by O’Reilly.

Veritable plethora.

Is there any other kind of plethora? No, there must not be — but for two exceptions.

One: If you intend it not in its everyday use (“an overabundance”) but in its medical use (“”an excess of blood in the circulatory system”). Doctors do not have time for superfluous descriptors.

Two: You are in the 1986 movie “¡Three Amigos!,” which featured the mildly famous exchange:

Jefe: I have put many beautiful pinatas in the storeroom, each of them filled with little surprises.
El Guapo
: Many pinatas?
Jefe
: Oh yes, many!
El Guapo
: Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?
Jefe
: A what?
El Guapo
: A *plethora*.
Jefe
: Oh yes, you have a plethora.
El Guapo
: Jefe, what is a plethora?
Jefe
: Why, El Guapo?
El Guapo
: Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has *no idea* what it means to have a plethora.
Jefe
: Forgive me, El Guapo. I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

Fershluggin mess.

A neologism limited to an extremely regional usage … namely my father. If something had been well and truly mucked up, he might mutter “it’s a fershluggin mess,” or he might refer to a large group of things (either tangible items or abstract notions) as “the whole fershluggin mess.” In that usage, it’s an equivalent to “the whole enchilada.”

“Fershlugginer,” as near as I can discover, is a modified Yiddish (or even completely fictional Yiddish) intensifier popularized by MAD magazine, which, in its signature New York Jewish voice, liked to play with foreign words as recurring non-sequiturs. There’s some debate about its origin: “farshlugginer” may be true Yiddish to mean “shaken or mixed-up;” it may be a descendant of the German “verschlagener” (meaning “more devious”); or it may just be legendary MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman having a jape at linguists’ expense. In any case, it’s meaning here is clearly as a mild expletive.

The irony is not lost on me that my straight-laced father would have borrowed a turn of phrase from MAD, a counterculture magazine he once called “ten miles of bad road.” If he knew its source, he would never have admitted it.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Want the world’s best adjective-noun combos? Your quest ends here

  1. bezer

    I have two opinions about this phrase. First you know Dad was a Navy fighter pilot. Back then many a German scientist was working in the early stages of jet and rocket propulsion. Back then engine reliability was questionable at best and any anomalies would go right up the ladder. This phrase might have been uttered by that scientist while he was pouring over the data from the anomalies. Or- what the pilot said while he was going down in his engineless aircraft… instead of the “F” bomb.

    • jdrewscott

      The German theory: Possible. “Another fershlugginer goose shmacked der turbine. Ear-ga-shplitten-loudenboomer!”

      The Self-Censor Theory: Why replace a single succinct syllable with an unwieldy three? Unless, perhaps, the tower operator had delicate sensibilities…

      • bezer

        When your Mother asks “What was the last word he spoke before his plane augured in?” doesn’t want to hear that you used ‘that’ word.

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