Cars pollute the dictionary too
I don’t want to rock your world too severely, but it’s come to my attention that cars cause problems.
If you’re not the U.S. government, you may have heard about this global-warming thing, caused in part by driving. There’s also a metric truckload of other health and environmental nightmares caused by monoxides, dioxides, hydrocarbons, and other yummy emissions. Meanwhile, our car-propelled reliance on fossil fuels keeps us hooked on Mideast oil like some kind of red, white, and blue crack-smoking eagle. On top of all that, finding a parking space is a mother.
But there’s a lesser-known victim of car culture — our language.
English, like all languages, constantly evolves. Consider, for instance, how the cultural juggernaut that was Seinfeld gave us terms for describing how people speak (“low talker,” “close talker”), stink (“de-smellify,” “smell Gestapo”), and screw (“conjugal-visit sex,” “home-bed advantage”).
But car culture? With apologies to Tom and Ray, car talk has only uglified the English tongue. Thankfully, some of the crassest offenders have been mercifully obscure. None of the following terms have made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, but let’s not take any chances. If William S. Burroughs was right when he said “language is a virus from outer space,” then these terms could spread like a deadly word flu — mouth to mouth!
In the interests of inoculation, documentation, and humoration, here are eight real and wretched car-related terms undreamt of by Shakespeare or your high-school English teacher. These words were located courtesy of Grant Barrett’s Double-Tongued Word Wrester Dictionary and Paul McFedries’ Word Spy.
chevrolegs My first guess was that “chevrolegs” were robotic attachments that might allow the disabled to walk and the evil to wreak havoc. Nuh-uh. Chevrolegs are just legs. That’s right, cars are so taken for granted that some folks can’t even discuss a major body part without alluding to autos. Related ridiculous terms include “toyotoes” and “shoedabakers” — which perhaps will take on non-jokey meanings in the terrifying future that awaits us all.
vehicularly housed This is in the proud tradition of ghastly euphemisms such as “differently challenged” and “badly sourced,” which mean disabled and false respectively. Now what could “vehicularly housed” mean? Lots of things might be housed in a vehicle: a hat, an engine, a three-year-old Whopper wrapper. But “vehicularly housed” refers to none of these: it describes homeless people who live in cars. I look forward to the day when “well-packaged” describes folks who live in boxes.
phoneslaughter Next time you murder a pedestrian because you were yapping on the phone, you’ll have a handy word to describe the act, and to comfort you in your prison cell.
car porn Since porn has become as common a word as “the,” it’s hard to know at first glance whether this is a type of real porn — like “punk porn” and “tentacle porn” — or a form of metaphorical porn, like “food porn” and “9/11 popcorn porn.” Wonder no more: It’s in the latter, non-bodily-fluid-soaked category, and refers to obsessive, drooling, mindless, context-free images of cars. Mmm … rear-axle assembly.
trucker bomb If you see a bottle by the side of the highway, don’t pick it up or touch it. If you must pick it up or touch it, don’t guzzle it like a frat boy on Friday: that bottle might just be a “trucker bomb,” aka a bottle of urine that one of our truck-driving citizens used as a restroom. I’m just saying.
crushability Though this seemingly nifty word is occasionally a synonym for “sex appeal” or “conjugaliciousosity,” alas, there is no romance or filth to be found in its auto-centric meaning — only an approximate measure of whether a car will be totaled in a serious accident.
bear jam Your head may be filled with delightful images of Winnie the Pooh, paw-deep in a jar of Smuckers as he chuckles while thinking wise, Taoist thoughts. Think again. A “bear jam” is a traffic jam of morons in a national park, as they gape and gawk at real live bears.
cupholder cuisine Don’t let the catchy alliteration and tasty sound of “cuisine” fool you — this is stuff to eat in the car. There are a lot of equally unappetizing synonyms out there, such as “dashboard dining,” “commuter food,” and “one-handed food” (ew), plus words that cover the overall expansion of life activities in the car — these include “windshield time” and “carcooning.” Carcooning? Phoneslaughter me now.
Well, that’s the list for now. I hope I haven’t driven you to switch to Klingon or start pant-hooting like a chimpanzee. And maybe, just maybe, you have a few new reasons to consider using public transportation, a bike, or even — God help us — your chevrolegs.
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