INTRO: Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble put some humor into the obsure -- and often misunderstood -- language of official Washington with guidance from a popular American comedian.
AA: George Carlin can say some outrageous things -- years ago the US Supreme Court found his "seven filthy words" monolgue "indecent."
RS: But when he stopped at the National Press Club in Washington not long ago, George Carlin had other words to say.
TAPE: CUT ONE -- CARLIN
"I'm not here to advance any political, social or environmental cause. I am, in fact, blessedly agenda-free. I don't want to save the river. I don't want to save the bay. I don't want to save the canyon, the whale, the wetlands, the rainforest, or the flying, spotted dwarf something-or-other. I don't want to save the children, above all. (laughter & Applause) frankly, I don't care about many of those things. Between you and me, those battles were lost a long time ago."
RS: Dressed in black with his hair in a pony tail, George Carlin kept the Washington press corps -- including VOA's Keming Kuo -- laughing with his observations on how the politicians and lawyers in Washington speak.
AA: He says they use a lot of obscure terms and phrases to avoid saying anything substantive.
TAPE: CUT TWO -- CARLIN
"They don't actually say things. They indicate them: 'as I indicated yesterday, and as the president indicated to me . . . ' Sometimes they don't indicate; they suggest: 'let me suggest, as I indicated yesterday . . . I haven't determined that yet.' They don't decide; they determine. If it's a really serious matter, they Make a judgment: 'I haven't made a judgment on that. When the hearings have concluded, I will Make a judgment or I might Make an assessment. I'm not sure; I haven't determined that yet. But when I do, I'll advise you. ' They don't tell, they advise: 'I advised him that I had made a judgment. Thus far, he hasn't responded. ' They don't answer; they respond: 'he hasn't responded to my intiative . . . ' An initiative is an idea that isn't going anywhere." [laughter]
RS: George Carlin added that when legislation is delayed or a project is taking too long, some more terms come into use:
TAPE: CUT THREE -- CARLIN
"That's a big activity in Washington: proceeding. They're always proceeding or moving forward. A lot of that goes on: 'Senator, have you solved that problem. Well, we're moving forward on that. ' And when they're not moving forward, they're moving something else forward . . . Such as the process: 'We have to move the process forward so we can implement the provisions of the initiative in order to meet these challenges. ' No one has problems anymore. Challenges. That's why we need people who can make the tough decisions. Tough decisions like: 'How much soft money can I expect to collect in exchange for my core values?'"
AA: George Carlin says political scandal or wrongdoing calls for yet another set of euphemisms.
TAPE: CUT FOUR -- CARLIN
"When they're in trouble, their explanations usually begin simply with words like miscommunication: 'What did you do wrong, senator? Well, it was a miscommunication.' Or: 'I was quoted out of context. ' Better yet, and more ironic: 'They twisted my words.' Such a nice touch. A person who routinely spends his days torturing the language complains, 'they twisted my words.' [laughter] Then, as the controversy continues to heat up, he moves to his next level of complaint: 'The whole thing has been blown out of proportion. ' It's always the whole thing. Apparently no one has ever claimed that a small portion of something was blown out of proportion. It has to be the whole thing."
RS: That's comedian George Carlin, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington. He was in town promoting the paperback edition of his book "Brain Droppings," a collection of humorous euphemisms.
AA: You can listen to Wordmaster each week at this same time. We welcome your questions or comments. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 29547 USA.
RS: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.