Weekly Whack: A Few Words About Words
A Few Words About Words
April 21, 1996

The other day I was watching some TV, and I caught a Noam Chomsky speech on C-SPAN. For all those who don't know, Noam Chomsky is this big shot expert on language from Harvard. I tried to pay attention to what he was saying, but his speaking style was so dull that all the words became jumbled together, and his speech, which I'm sure was intelligently written, started to sound like nothing more than: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah." I found it ironic that someone who is supposed to be an expert on language, was such a poor speaker. Anyway, the purpose of this Whack was not to berate Noam Chomsky, the guy's a genius and I have always admired him, but it was to take a look at the peculiarities of human language. You see, language is an amazing thing. There so many ways to say one thing, and it seems like new words pop up everyday. As our population grows, so does our vocabulary, and each generation makes it own contribution to the never-ending pool of words. I could write forever about all the different words and phrases that have come and gone. Instead, however, I am just gonna write about one word, a word that is a prefect example of just how amazing our language is: house.

Noah Webster gave the word house seven simple definitions: "a building for human use or occupation," "any place of abode," "something that contains or houses," "a household," "a family including ancestors and descendants," "a body of persons," and "the management of a gaming house." Although the word house has seven clear and succinct meanings, it was given three additional unique and clearly unrelated definitions in the vocabulary of slang.

The first slang definition of house is to come, approach, or move toward. For example, one person would say to another person: "Let's house on over to the mall to catch a movies." Also one friend could ask another friend: "Do you want to house on over to my house and find something to do?" That last example also demonstrates how both the slang form and traditional form of house can be used in the same sentence.

The second slang definition of the word house is to humiliate or disrespect. This form makes house a negative word. An example is: two people are playing each other in a game of basketball, and one person dunks over another person. The former would respond to the latter, "You were housed. I housed you." In extreme cases the verb, to house, becomes to house all over. For example if one baseball team beat another baseball team five to nothing, they "housed" the other team, but if the same baseball team beats another baseball team twenty-four to two, they now "housed all over" the new team. The point is still argued on when house becomes house all over, but it usually depends on the circumstance. This form of the word house is special because it can be used as a tool to explain historical events. An example: "In 1941, the Japanese housed the Americans at Pearl Harbor, but this led the Americans to enter World War II, where they proceeded to house all over Japan until they surrendered in 1945."

The final slang definition of the word house is to give, to get, to take, or to bring. "House me a piece of paper." "Don't go housing that last cookie." "House on over that new CD you bought." These are all examples of the usage of the third slang definition of house. It is interesting to note that the first and third slang meanings of the word house can be used effectively together. For example, a mother could say to her son: "House on over to the store and house me a loaf of bread." This illustrates how using the slang forms of house can give a sentence a stronger context and make a command much more forceful.

As you can see, there is more to a simple word that meets the eye. House is definetly not an isolated example. In fact, even the word, "word," has a few slang meanings. And don't bother trying to figure out why. For some reason people just make up new words out of nowhere, or just give old words totally unrelated meanings. All the Noam Chomskys in the world wouldn't be able to figure out this mystery. People in America speak a different language than people in England, people in the north of America speak a different language than people in the south, people in the west speak a different language than people in the east, etc...etc. Eventually we will reach a point where everybody has their own unique language, and nobody will be able to understand each other. And that may actually not be that bad of a thing.

Well I'm done for this week, so to conclude my fortieth Whack, house is a word word; people can use a hundred different words, and still say nothing; and what the what hell kind of name is Noam?!

Now for this week's very special feature, the people who used words like no one else could, Feff's top ten favorite orators of all time:

10. Robert Kennedy
9. Fidel Castro
8. Spiro Agnew
7. Theodore Roosevelt
6. Barry Goldwater
5. Mario Cuomo
4. William Jennings Bryan
3. Winston Churchill
2. Jesse Jackson
1. Malcolm X

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