February 24, 2007 - February 17, 2007
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Snob Games 2
What's that word he's about to
DON'T BREAK THE CHAIN
The other day, InstaPunk administered a righteous beating
to one Mark Gauvreau Judge, spokesman for the "metrosexual conservative"
demographic (and, apparently, the world's number one fan of Polo
cologne). This isn't a continuation of InstaPunk's essay. It's just
that we thought of it when we read the following in a NYT column by Ana Marie
Paul Miller, who as president of the
American League of Lobbyists (that's the one with the designated-hitter
rule) has the thankless task of defending his trade, told reporters he
was reluctant to say that Mr. Abramoff even deserved to be called a
member of the profession. O.K., but he deserves to be called other
things. Some of them unprintable in family newspapers.
Other modern Congressional kerfuffles have not been as flashy.
Yeah, we should probably be talking about what she's talking about --
the terrible discovery that members of the United States Congress may
be corrupt. Or we should be talking about the topic Protein
just did a 12,000 word post about:
NSA kerfuffle: redux (UPDATED and
UPDATED AGAIN 10:25 PM MT)
Drawing on remarks from both the President and the Attorney General
yesterday—and on the responses I was reading around the blogosphere—I
began to suspect that the divisions we’re seeing in the debate over
executive authority to authorize domestic surveillance is a function
not merely of politics, but also of the paradigm through which.... [and
so on and so on and so on]
But we are punk conservatives, not "metro-cons," and so we got
distracted from the big issues of the day by a pesky little question
that wouldn't go away: In the sensory deprived environment of the
blogosphere, what do you suppose would be the verbal equivalent of the
metrosexuals' Polo cologne?
Well, in our lowbrow opinion, it's words like 'kerfuffle.'
It's not that we don't like cool words. It's that we tend to be
suspicious about sudden vogues in usage. Several years back, for
example, we got pretty annoyed about the mysteriously wide incidence of
the word 'divisive' pronounced with three short 'i's. Chris Matthews
seemed to be a principal malefactor in this misdemeanor of diction. The
correct pronunciation in American English calls for the second 'i' to
be long, just as it is when we say the root word 'divide.' (Duh..) We
didn't know about metrosexuals back then, but this little affectation
of speech seems a perfect fit with their esthetic. It makes a plain and
useful word into a pseudo-Oxbridge declaration of personal superiority:
"Oh? You didn't know how we cognoscenti say this word? Ah. Hmmm. There
(And though we can't prove it, we'd swear that some of the 'divisive'
poseurs were simultaneously participating in the equally sudden and
widespread conflation of the words 'phenomenon' and 'phenomena,' which
we had lived -- most of us anyway -- for close to half a century
without encountering. The first is singular, the second plural in
accordance with Classical Greek grammar, except that some subset of
pseudo-intellectuals and science-documentary narrators have decided
it's the opposite. Please excuse the digression.)
And lately we've been gritting our teeth at the instant popularity of
this word 'kerfuffle,' which pops up at every turn in both the Op-Ed
punditry of the MSM and in the blogosphere. It's true we haven't hunted
down every instance, but we're pretty sure that the offenders include
Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Jonah Goldberg, and dozens of lesser
known bloggers. And it may seem exceptionally petty to say so, but it
It's not that we dispute its existence as a word. It has an etymology
and a definition. Allwords.com
lists it thus:
Etymology: From Gaelic car- + Scots fuffle to disorder.
Irish and Scots blood abounds here, so we can scarcely frame our
objection around its origins. What then? This elaboration
of its history begins to point the way:
A commotion or fuss.
You will most commonly come across this wonderfully expressive word in
Britain and the British Commonwealth countries (though the White House
spokesman Ari Fleischer used it in January this year). It is rather
informal, though it often appears in newspapers. One of the odder
things about it is that it changed its first letter in quite recent
times. Up to the 1960s, it was written in all sorts of ways—curfuffle,
carfuffle, cafuffle, cafoufle, even gefuffle (a clear indication that
its main means of transmission was in speech, being too rarely written
down to have established a standard spelling). But in that decade it
suddenly became much more popular and settled on the current
The bottom line? It's become a snooty vogue word via the Brits. We
don't object to the existence of such words or their occasional use.
We're fans, for example, of P.G. Wodehouse, whose writing is full of
such quaint Brit colloquialisms -- pshaw, struth, zooks, tally-ho,
piffle, et al -- almost always intended to convey a mentality at some
remove from the coarse materiality of existence. They tend to establish
a certain hierarchical distance between the speaker and his subject or
the speaker and the average listener. Connotatively, then, a kerfuffle
is a fuss or commotion that doesn't really matter -- or shouldn't
really matter to people who know the word kerfuffle. In other words,
it's not something you would ever really write seriously about -- if
you actually belonged in the company of those who, for centuries, have
used the word as an oral and
Our bet? William F. Buckley and George Will knew this word long before
it started showing up as verbal cologne in the media. But you probably
won't find much evidence of it in their writings because they use
it orally to end conversations, not to begin elaborate arguments.
What's the real value of this fad word? Do we need it? There are
many excellent words which convey varying shades of meaning around the
idea of a fuss or commotion: confrontation, conflict, squabble, fiasco,
ado, hub-bub, fracas, riot, mess, row, set-to, crisis, skirmish,
catfight, dogfight, cockfight, cause-celebre, tempest in a teapot,
snafu, and no doubt many more. The only unique contribution of
kerfuffle is the extent to which it evinces membership in some club
consisting of those who use it because they think it fashionable.
We don't think it fashionable for chimney sweeps to wear plumed hats.
Plumed hats are fine, but they don't look quite so swell dappled with
All that remains is assigning blame -- the required American
denouement. The quote referenced above blames Ari Fleischer. We're not
so quick to agree. An occasional usage of any word can be arresting and
effective. It's the institutionalization that grates. Our research lays
the responsibility squarely at the feet of the Wall Street Journal and
its online child the Opinion-Journal. See here
for examples of their determined devotion to kerfuffle.
And see here
for the smoking gun.
We rest our case. Are the rest of you embarrassed? We hope so. But
you'll probably regard it as another meaningless kerfuffle.
We don't want to take anything away from Vince Young's
performance in the Rose Bowl last night. All the adjectives are
understatements -- spectacular, dazzling, brilliant, incredible,
awe-inspiring... And we're happy to point you to some of the lyrical
accounts of the game by sportswriters -- here
-- but we just have to interrupt the tidal wave of praise for Vince by
posing a question that occurs to us at regular intervals: What's this
Trojan thing all about?
In the first place, what possible line of genealogy could connect the
ancient Asia Minor city-state with an American university located in a
suburb of Los Angeles, California? There must be such a line, because
why else would a football team dedicated to victories and championships
name itself after a place which is remembered only for a single war
that it lost utterly. And the manner of that losing was even more
humiliating than the absoluteness of Troy's destruction. All the
greatest warriors of Troy were outshone by one Greek hero, Achilles
(who was slain sneakily by the Trojan coward Paris), while the princes
of Troy were outsmarted by Ulysses and his giant wooden horse. A horse
that has become an eternal symbol, both visual and verbal, for bold
cunning and calamitous change of circumstance. This prompts the
geniuses at Southern Cal to name their team the USC Achaeans? No. The
USC Myrmidons? No. Of course not. The USC Trojans. Huh?
Why? Whose idea was it? For what earthly reason? Could someone explain
this to us? We don't know of any football teams called the
Carthaginians. Yes, we're aware that some teams are named after Indian
tribes that ultimately lost wars to the U.S. Cavalry, but they at least
scored some victories along the way, if only with each other. The
history of Troy includes not a single win. Zero. And whatever you do,
don't trot out (pun intended) the one about Aeneas, last survivor of
Troy, who plagiarizes Ulysses's wanderings and founds the empire of
Rome. As a name, the USC Romans would make more sense than a herd of
other candidates and therefore begs the same question all over again.
The whole thing is beyond comprehension.
Forget it. Just thought we'd ask. Please return to your previous state
of adulation or lamentation, whichever it was.
Troy. Or the Rose Bowl. Or something.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
epitome of Red-State culture? Probably not.
. Thanks to Ace of Spades
discovered a piece in the American
by Mark Gauvreau Judge. It's called Right-
and it's a must-read because it's an unusually candid and
revealing essay by a self-styled MetroCon, i.e., a metrosexual
The kernel of his argument is interesting and quite defensible:
In his masterpiece Transformation in Christ, the great
theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand claimed that there are two phases of
growth for the human person. The first is physical, and the second
spiritual. After the physical growth stops, the human person starts to
grow towards God. This, in Hildebrand's view, entails a growth in
appreciation of, among other things, aesthetic beauty and the arts.
This would be a productive idea to examine in the contemporary American
context if it had been broached by someone who is not, like Mr. Judge,
blind, deaf, and dumb to esthetic beauty and the arts. In his comment
on the piece, Ace of Spades seems chiding rather than scornful, and
I'm sure he does like the symphony, but
his appreciation of it was surely spurred by the desire to ultimately
appreciate the symphony. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but many
people have better things to do than cultivate their tastes. Cultivated
tastes are just wonderful and all, but there's a steep entry cost in
time and money to achieving them which many just can't be bothered with.
Still, there is something of a good point here. If NASCAR shouldn't be
dogmatically denigrated, neither should finer pursuits. And really,
well-paid, culturally-blue-state Northeastern city dwellers shouldn't
go on and on about the virtues of hick culture unless they actually do
admire it and enjoy it -- which I suspect many really don't.
Hey, I'll admit it: I don't really find Larry the Cable Guy very funny
at all. "Git-R-Done"? What the hell's that supposed to mean?
Here, Ace of Spades seems to be conceding far too much, especially the
notion that "aesthetic beauty" really might be synonymous with what is
called high culture. I suspect , though I don't know, that Ace doesn't
much care for the symphony himself and therefore feels compelled to
back off a step in the face of a more cultivated adversary. I feel no
such compulsion. Mark Gauvreau Judge is a poseur and a jackass, and he
doesn't understand a damn thing about culture other
Exhibit One: in the immediate aftermath of his reference to Hildebrand,
Judge smoothly loads his own definition of esthetic value into the idea,
as if he and Hildebrand had agreed on the specifics together:
This, in Hildebrand's view, entails a
growth in appreciation of, among other things, aesthetic beauty and the
arts. It means going from pop music tunes to symphonies, from blue
jeans to slacks, from Old Spice to Polo. It means trying to improve
Old Spice to Polo? Is this really to be assumed as an axiom from a book
called Transformation in Christ
Can we have a New Testament citation in support of that?
I'm not nitpicking. Judge gives us several similar lists of cultural
comparisons that matter. There's this, for example:
There's William F. Buckley, the
pluperfect conservative metrosexual. Buckley, whose National Review
turned 50 last year, is the picture of style, erudition, dignity, and
grooming. He's more Polo than
Gillette, goes to the symphony, and would look lost at a rodeo.
Buckley is representative of the older conservative order, people like
Jeane Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol who can speak about Beethoven and Brahms
more than Alan Jackson and Jeff Foxworthy. They read the New
Criterion -- a kind of Bible of the metrocon -- and buy Christmas presents at Brooks Brothers
instead of Wal-Mart. [italics mine]
(W)hen I sobered up and became a
conservative -- which also meant a return to Christianity -- I began to
experience the second growth that von Hildebrand speaks of. I went from Levis and punk rock to Saks and
swing dancing. I poured out
the Old Spice and went to Nordstrom's for a bottle of Truefitt and Hill
of London (founded, the bottle reminds us, in 1805, when Lord
Nelson won the great battle at Trafalgar). I stopped wearing sneakers
and white socks. Like George Will -- a Hall of Fame metrocon -- I began
to prefer baseball to football. And I never stopped liking Woody Allen
films -- yes, I call them films. I didn't stop growing -- in fact, this
was when I started growing. [italics mine]
Growing what, one wonders. My guess? Affectations. The most important
information Judge provides about himself is in the biographical blurb
at the end, where we learn that he is:
...the author of God and Man at
Georgetown Prep: How I Became a Catholic Despite 20 Years of Catholic
Schooling (Crossroad, 2005) and Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the
Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship (Encounter, 2003).
Lawdy, Lawdy. We're looking at an open-and-shut case of hero worship. William
first came to fame for writing a book called "God
and Man at Yale
." And George
("Hall of Fame metro-con"), who has written a couple of books
, is notorious for his love of the Senator-like
Chicago Cubs. Mr. Judge, whose adolescent "uniform was studied
rock and roll grubbiness -- mullet (hey, it was the '80s), ripped
jeans, rock band T-shirt," appears to be formulaically recreating
himself in the image of conservatism's two most pompous commentators.
How seriously are we to take his scorn for NASCAR?
The common man is deified by the right.
NASCAR, an absolutely idiotic "sport" which consists, as the joke goes,
of "a bunch of rednecks makin' left turns," is hailed as red state
America's favorite pastime -- and ipso facto comparable to the Olympics
of ancient Greece. Actually, scratch that: NASCAR is not treated as
something grand and noble, which makes it all the worse. To populist
conservatives, the simple fact that Bush country embraces the sport
makes its aesthetic quality quite beside the point.
He doesn't tell us what we should prefer to this. Grand Prix Racing
(Euro-pansies chasing each other through the most glamorous capitals of
Europe)? Maybe not. How about yacht racing, like the Buckleys would do.
Now there's a "sport."
Wealthy gentlemen with lockjaw accents and wives who wear khaki slacks
and Polo cologne driving their million-dollar yawls around buoys off
the Nantucket shore. That's a pastime all Americans should really be
able to get behind.
The sad thing is that there truly is a worthwhile point buried in the
mire of Judge's self-congratulatory confession. The point about growing
is valid. But it's much much bigger than Judge and the elitist snobs of
the left and right -- or the slobs of left and right -- can comprehend.
Esthetic beauty and genuine cultural value are to be found at every level
of society. No one has a monopoly, and one's personal choice in cologne
has virtually nothing to do with the equation.
be beautiful, even
if its practitioners know nothing of fashion. What they do instead is
push themselves, their machines, and each other to the limit of their
capabilities in an artificially created arena that may require them to
give their lives in exchange for an intangible honor -- being the best.
Along the way, they create fabulous works of art in the form of their
racing cars and their driving performances. Much the same can be said
for another object of Judge's derision, the rodeo. If these are not
"sports" in the truest sense of the word, then nothing else is, either.
By the same token, red-staters have no right to ridicule Grand-Prix
racing, or ocean yacht racing, skiing, or bob-sledding.
More, the same principle can be extended into every part of life and
the arts. Growing is about increasing the realms in which we experience
curiosity, appreciation, and respect for those who lead the effort. No
one of us can like or aspire to understand everything, but it behooves
each of us to add interests rather than replace our old ones with more
fashionable substitutes. That's not growing; it's leaving valuable
parts of ourselves behind.
Of course, it's much more challenging to be selectively appreciative
than sweepingly disdainful. It requires discrimination to recognize
that much of all music, from classical to hip-hop, is junk and still
retain the curiosity and receptiveness it takes to identify works of
genuine merit. For some of us it's hard not to be as dismissive of
contemporary "high" art as Mr. Judge is of country music, but it would
be equally wrong. If I'm inclined to regard Phillip Glass as a
pretentious phony, Harold Pinter as a derivative bore, and Richard
Dawkins as an arrogant didact, I must still retain the esthetic and
intellectual rigor to see and learn from good post-modern music,
contemporary playwrights, and academic scientists. Quality is really
not a matter of fashion, but of vision, imagination, and execution.
Those who turn their noses up at most of their fellow citizens are
rightly suspected of being snobs rather than gods. That's the answer to
the question Mr. Judge only thinks he wants an answer to: why the
Coulters, Ingrahams, and O'Reillys defend cultural pursuits they
probably aren't avid fans of themselves. Out there in the America of
church suppers, tractor-pulls, square dancing, Four-H competitions, bluegrass
festivals, motocross, hog-calling contests, the Grand Ole Opry,
pro-stock drag-racing, heavy-metal rock concerts, deerhunting,
Harley-Davidson poker runs, RV conventions, barbecue cook-offs, and
Larry the Cable Guy, there is both mediocrity and an abundance of what
even von Hildebrand would probably recognize as esthetic beauty. And
among the supposed unwashed are also people who love opera, Renaissance art,
Shakespeare, Rodin, Fellini, the America's Cup, and even baseball. A
lot of non-metro-cons probably know this instinctively. Mark Gauvreau
Judge may have at one time too. Too bad he's forgotten; he's the less
for it, no matter how appealing his cologne.
No offense, Ace. I think you'll take my point.