Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Word Like That In English

Coleman Young, the late mayor of Detroit, upon being told by a Japanese interpreter that the same word in Japanese could mean many different things depending on how the speaker said it, Coleman Y. replied, We have a word like that in English -- it's motherfucker. Long-time Detroiters know Mr. Young's fondness for this word; dare I say it was probably his favorite? When asked what my favorite word is, I used to say melancholy. As a child, I loved telling people how melancholy I was, how melancholy the world felt, and so on. But if my grubby little feet were held to the fire, I'd have to say that my favorite word is evil. I use it to mean almost everything: happiness, disgust, delight, sympathy. You're so evil, I might say. If I hit you and laugh, this is a good sign. But if I say it with a flat intonation, like death not even warmed over, I think you're an asshole.
Stephen King wrote that if night didn't exist, horror writers would have to invent it. So it goes with evil even though I don't hear many people use the word anymore. I fear it's fallen out of fashion, like shoulderpads. One of my pet peeves is watered-down clinical language, although I'm as guilty of using it as anyone else -- ie, What a passive-aggressive motherfucker! I have to admit a fondness for old-fashioned language; nobody had poor boundary issues --they just got into your shit or fucked with your head. They were, in a word, evil. That's the kind of thing I like to say -- it can mean anything or nothing or everything. You can bring your own burdens to the table; there's enough food for everyone.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Silence may be as variously shaded as speech." Edith Wharton
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Magic Potion The Black Keys
Benedictions and Maledictions
21 days until The Sopranos airs!


Tony Soprano said...

The most touchy moments in Dr. Melfi's offfice are when she just looks at me and doesn't say anything. Nothing. I know then that I might have done something wrong, but I leave it up to her to tell me what it is. After all, I'm paying her, right?

Herman Northrop Frye said...


Poetry archive said...

"You could at least get a hamper"=evil.

Evel Knievel said...

I will jump the Snake River.

Boris Badinov said...

Moose and squirrel is evil, not me.

Natasha Badinov said...

That's right, darling.

the walking man said...

Etymology..the progression of sounds and meanings of words. Evil seems to have reverted back to it's original meaning when applied to the ones who announce thier presence here in an anonymous way.

Coleman Young a hero and a straight talking motherfucker who always told city workers I am going to fuck you and that's all there is to it. That son of a bitch had more great sayings than Buddah. My personal favorite was "I ain't getting rid of my goddamn guns when I am ringed by hostile suburbanites, ready to come in here and take over our motherfucking city. Or when he called old Ronald Reagan "old pruneface" on national TV in 1980 when Detroit had the republican convention here.

And before you evil motherfuckers start in on me again like yesterday...fuck you and fuck you sisters and mothers too because that is about all the sex you motherfuckers will ever get. Now that is plain talk for you asshole shithead motherfuckers.

Popeye said...

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

JR's Thumbprints said...

A word I use often on an inmate spelling test is: onanism. They cry foul, having never heard the word before ... then I hand them a dictionary which illicits a Mayor Coleman Young response.

Jane Goodall said...

And then I swing in my cell like a gorilla and scratch my crotch.

Paul said...


TS said...


Happy Blog.

Susan Miller said...

"You can bring your own burdens to the table; there's enough food for everyone."

When Charles wrote the other day about endings I immediately thought of you and your knack for them. Each one of your posts seems to carry the perfect ending.

Coleman Young sounds like my type of guy.

miller580 said...

I can't comment on Coleman Young. I was a kid when he was in dad used to say he was the closest thing to a dictator that a city could see. But then I lived in white suburbia and during a time when "those people voted for him" was tolerated.
So today when I hear he was a good mayor, I have to wonder if he really was or if this is simply revisionist history.

But have no fear, Evil is not going anywhere. As I read your post, I started to hear in my mind all the different times I use the word, It is a word I use often and hear often (at least down here in Florida). And now because I am conscious of the word it will probably be a larger part of my daily vocab.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree with Susan. Your pieces are always beautifully crafted gems.

Robin said...

You are so evil in your melancholy, Michelle! ;) Interesting post; haven't read much about Coleman Young for a very long while...who knows, motherfucker might be an appropriate term there. I strive for no opinion on such things.