The lilting strains of George and Ira Gershwin’s perfect love song have filled my head this week – updated to reflect the new language of our times. Things have changed since 1935; our legislative bodies now define us by our body parts.
I Am Vagina, Hear Me Roar (Helen Reddy, 1971)
Calling things by their formal Latin names is all very well and good if you’re at the garden center trying, for instance, to find a cheap, drought-tolerant hedge that will grow six dense feet in just one season and block out the weird neighbors next door who appear to be running drugs (we just don’t make eye contact or show fear – it’s like dealing with strange dogs).
Oh, Pretty Vagina (Roy Orbison, 1964)
Throwing Latin terminology around is also fun if you’re on the dinner-party circuit with a bunch of English professors (yes, I’m on one of those. It’s actually great fun, apart from worries about proper personal grammar — and I get over those by the second Scotch). They all have PhDs. Me? I have a BA that took me 25 years to finish. If I bandy about a few Latinisms, I seem smarter than I am. I have a Latin phrase-a-day calendar to help me with this. Today’s entry is, “I have washed my hands.” I can now say this proudly as I help serve dinner or saunter back from the bathroom. They’re bound to be mightily impressed.
Latin doesn’t work so well if you’re substituting a medical term for a crude 4-letter slur with which you’re describing half the world’s population.
State Representative Peter Hansen, a New Hampshire Republican, recently sent a formal email to his colleagues supporting the use of deadly force to defend one’s home. At stake? “Children and vagina’s of course.”
American Vagina (The Guess Who, 1970)
Hansen’s misused apostrophe adds ignorance to insult. You don’t need a doctorate in English to know a simple S at the end makes a plural. You have two hands, not two hand’s. You have two ears, not two ear’s. You have two vaginas, not two vagina’s.
And if you do in fact have two vaginas, you’re either a unique medical specimen or someone who’s into Hansen-speak and is two-timing his wife.
In this week of explosions, Hansen’s fellow Republicans dropped additional bombs on the GOP’s effort to attract more vagina’s and minorities.
In Oklahoma, Rep. Dennis Johnson shared the frustrations of being a small business owner. He said that there are times when customers “try to Jew him down.”
Laughter echoed across the debate floor, whereupon Johnson hastily added, “Jews run good small businesses, too.” Later, he said “It just came out of one of the wrinkles of my brain. I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone and I apologize for the folks I did offend.”
So he apologizes for the folks he offended, not to them. That must have come from a brain wrinkle, too. He himself had nothing to do with it; he was in Montreal at the time. You can blame your brain when claiming insanity as a legal defense, after all. This is the next logical step. “My brain said that, not me.”
No Vagina, No Cry (Bob Marley and the Wailers, 1975)
Then we have Jim Gile, the Kansas county commissioner who said that he preferred hiring an architect to design departmental repairs over having someone “nigger-rigging it.”
“I am not a prejudiced person,” Gile said in his apology. “I have built Habitat homes for colored people.” He added that he has a close black friend “whom he regards as a sister.”
Jim Gile, Friend to Colored Vagina’s. He’s bound to win the next election with that slogan.
Do Right Vagina, Do Right Man (Aretha Franklin)
Gile’s wife tried to do right by him. She came publicly to his defense, arguing that “nigger-rigging” is a term that conveys respect and therefore should be considered a compliment – she said them Kansas farmers used to be amazed at what all them coloreds could make do with.
So too with being called a vagina – it shows me that I am complimented and respected.
I confess that to this day I stand ready to mispronounce that word. Thank God I am never called upon to say it. When I came across the term early in my reading life (my sex education occurred while babysitting and rifling through the hidden books and magazines I happened to come across while casually poking around other peoples’ houses), I decided that “vag” must sound like “bag” and that “in” was simply “in.” And I put the accent on the first syllable. Who was there to correct me?
So, She’s Always a Vag´-in-ah to Me
(Billy Joel, 1977)