Category Archives: Foot & Meter


footmeter.jpgIn Which We Explain Ourselves

Yes, yes, I know. Islamofascism is a word that became popular 4 years ago and is already dated, irrelevant, and gathering mildew in the dank basement of some aging linguist. I know. But (there is always a “but”), I just learned that last week was Islamofascism Awareness Week, ya know, somewhere, and this allows me to talk about two (or three, depending on how you count) of my favorite subjects: Language (specifically in relation to the fantastic word Islamofascism), and the one-and-only Rick Santorum.

For those of you who aren’t from ’round here, or just don’t follow politics, Rick Santorum used to be a US Senator from Pennsylvania. He was wildly insane. Well, he’s still alive, and I’d imagine he’s still insane, but, politicians who aren’t re-elected are a much more benign sort of crazy, and, frankly, I stopped paying attention to him. And then, this morning, I found the most wonderful thing while trolling the Tubes. Crazy-Pants former Senator Rick Santorum was scheduled, to speak about Islamofascism at Temple University, Penn Sate, and UPenn last week. If I had known about this, I might have gone. Really.

Islamofascism is a compound word, of course, gracefully compounding one of the world’s most populous religions, Islam, and Benito Mussolini’s coinage, fascism. So, we’ll have some fun and deal with “Islam”, with “fascism”, and then finally, we’ll have a whiz-bang conclusion with Rick Santorum and “Islamofascism”.


Islam is a word derived from the Arabic word “salaam”. Salaam, like many Arabic words, doesn’t have an easy translation to English, but is most commonly interpreted as “peace”. Another nuance of this word’s meaning, though, reveals that “submission” is a possible translation, as in “submission to God”. Thus, a Muslim is one who “submits to God”, and Islam is a religion of “submission to God”. The religion, historically, dates back to the 7th century, AD, and we can assume that “Islam”, in some form, appeared at the time.


Fascism is, as mentioned already, a creation of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The word comes from the Latin “fasces”. A fasces was the symbol of authority of the highest level of Roman magistrate. It consisted of a bundle of sticks, bound tightly together, and amongst the sticks rested an axe, as in the picture on the right.

Fascism, of course, is a system of government–sorta–in which individual opinions, desires, and rights are suppressed at the expense of the will of a dictator. In the most effective fascist states, nationalism is promoted to a feverish pitch, which creates a heavy and violent bias against foreign nationalities, religions, and creeds. Despite Mussolini’s coinage, Adolf Hitler is most frequently cited when discussion of fascism and fascist dictators crop up.

Because Hitler and the Nazi party are most frequently used in discussion of fascism, some distortion has occurred in the word’s meaning. Hitler, of course, is known less for his elevation of Germany (out of economic depression and into status as a world power), and for the nationalism and national pride he inspired in his people, and far more for World War II and the Holocaust.

This chain, connecting fascism to Hitler and Hitler to dictatorial mass violence, leads to a colloquial connection between overt, mass violence and fascism. That is, there is currently an implication that the end product of fascism is violence, whereas originally violence was either a side-effect.


So, sometime after 9/11, some newspaper writer started trying to find a good and succinct way to talk about the Islamic terrorists who crashed airplanes into buildings.  During the Polish coup of 1981, Susan Sonstag used a phrase that would become famous: “fascism with a human face”.  This phrase was co-opted by Christopher Hitchens, an Atlantic Monthly writer, as “fascism with an Islamic face” to describe the attackers.  Over the next 2 or 3 years, this became the staggering “Islamic fascism”, and then became the better flowing but aesthetically mediocre “Islamo-fascism”, and then, finally, Islamofascism.

This word gained a lot use by war supporters, as it gave a name to the enemy.  The war opponents, naturally, just want the Islamofascists to win.  Or something.  Rick Santorum, kickass insane Senator, advocated on behalf of the War on Islamofascism.  As with everything, however, there was backlash.

Islam–devotion to God–is a religion of peace.  So says Mohammed, and so says every prominent Muslim with 2 minutes on cable network news in the early years of the current war.  Thus, creating a word that unites a religion of peace with a fundamentally violent form of government was, at a basic level, self-contradictory.  At a grander level, it’s terribly offensive.  Those Muslims who completely believe in the peaceful nature of their beliefs were appalled to find the US government using the name of Islam to describe a violent group of heretics.

Naturally, because of this, President Bush and most other war supporters dropped its usage.  Newstations reported that the Republican party was quietly telling its members to stop using the phrase.  Undaunted, however, was Rick Santorum.

Islamofascism was a lousy word to describe the enemy because it’s not an enemy.  During WWII, the Germans were the enemy.  For the Romans, the Carthagians were the enemy.  For us, the ambiguously unidentifiable Islamofascists were the enemy.  No good, at all.

I don’t know if Islamofascism Awareness Week will come around again next year, or if it was just a one-time thing, but here’s hoping that Santorum can stay as keynote speaker for years to come.

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Foot & Meter: In the Clutch

footmeter.jpgDejan Kovacevic, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has written an excellent article on the concept of clutch-hitting in baseball (thanks to Baseball Musings for the find). Clutch-hitting is a somewhat nebulous concept in baseball. There are players who are known for their “clutchness” (or, if you prefer, “clutchity”), such as David Ortiz and Derek Jeter. There are also players who are known for being particularly lousy in the clutch, such as Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez. The question has always been one of defining a clutch situation. Any baseball fan watching a game can tell you, as its occurring, that thisis the clutch moment. However, looking over the course of a season, it’s nearly impossible to isolate any situation in which players like Ortiz are more dazzlingly excellent than they already are. As a result the “traditionalists”–writers like Bill Conlin and coaches like Ozzie Guillen–do frequent battle with the “nerds”–sabermetricians like Bill James and Nate Silver about whether or not “clutch” exists.

Kovacevic’s article looks at a couple of statistics, and interviews a number of players, coaches, and stat nerds about whether or not clutch-hitting exists. Now, being enthusiastic about baseball, I’ve got plenty of thoughts about the existence of clutch-hitting, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.

Foot&Meter asks, “Where did “clutch” come from?”

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Foot & Meter: Monster Fix


Found in Australia recently was this enormous toadNewspapers reporting the story have nicknamed this impressive beastie “Toadzilla”, in a lazy homage to the Toho Studio creation, Godzilla. For the curious, this Cane Toad measures roughly 15 inches long (from snout to vent), while an average such toad lays out at 4-6 inches. For today, though, we’re less interested in the toad and far more interested in the suffix, -zilla.

-Zilla comes from Godzilla (naturally), the 1954 Japanese monster. By one account, the word Godzilla is, itself, a compound word. Toho Studios, looking for a word to describe their monster, combined the Japanese words gorira (for “gorilla”) and kujira (for “whale”), forming Gojira. Another account mentions a big, tough looking guy who worked at the studio possessing the nickname “Gojira”, and the monster was named after him. Either way, Gojira was the Japanese name and was soon transliterated into English as Godzilla. At some point, English users decided to lop off God- and use the remainder as a suffix meaning either “monstrous” or, more often, “monstrously or unprecedentedly large”.

-Zilla holds a unique position in the English language. It is, at least to the best my knowledge, our only augmentative suffix. English has plenty of diminutive suffixes (most notably -y and -ie as in “doggy” and -et and -ette as in “booklet”). It also has a few diminutive and augmentative prefixes (micro- for “microprocessor”, and super- for “supermarket”). Augmentative suffixes are also common in other languages. Offhand, I know that a number of the Romance languages use them. For instance, in Spanish, a perro (“dog”) can become a perrazo (“big dog”), and in Italian, a naso (“nose”) can be a nasone (“big nose”). English has no such suffix, except -zilla, which only functions in the paramount. Sure, your yellow labrador may be a big dog, but Gibson is dogzilla.


Mary Shelley wrote a book at the encouragement of her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, called Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. A cautionary tale against the Industrial Revolution and the over-reaching of man, the book is about a madman, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who creates a new human out of the biggest and best parts he can find from the corpses of old humans. He wakes the creature up, is horrified by the creature, and flees. The creature thereafter disappears. Long story short, there’s a lot of mucking about with the creature killing everyone Victor loves out of revenge, and Victor then chasing the monster nearly to the North Pole. The book came out in 1818. When the movie came out in 1931, the creature became known as “Frankenstein”.

According to William Safire in his language column, “The Way We Live Now” (subscription needed), the first usage of Franken-was in 1992 in a letter to the New York Times, writing about genetically modified food. Throughout the 1990s, the opponents of genetically modified lunches set about calling such things “Frankenfood”, and “Frankenfruit”. The usage then expanded to “Frankenworld”, referencing the society of genetically modified food-eaters.

Continuing to evolve, Franken– no longer necessarily denotes genetic modification. It can be used to describe something that is merely different from what is commonly accepted. In 2004, a snakehead fish was discovered in Philadelphian waters. This fish, which grows 2-3 feet long, has the ability to walk for short distances on land. This unusual characteristic gave it the nickname Frankenfish. An early episode of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters (Episode 9, “Chicken Gun”) refers to a souped up washing machine as Frankenwasher.

Franken- clearly has a negative connotation, as that which has been modified is now “dangerous or monstrous”, like the creature from Mary Shelley’s book.


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Foot & Meter: You Silly Nonce

footmeter.jpgNonce words are a subject that, for Mr. Thursday, may never reach conclusion. They are neologisms created specifically for an immediate occasion or moment, without intent of repetition. Thusly, they need to be immediately accessible in the sense that, in their brief flash of existence, their purpose needs to be understood within their context.

Nonce words have certain purposes. In some cases they are used light-heartedly. In some cases a special occasion may necessitate a new word. In some cases (perhaps most cases), the author is just being lazy.

Our little reflection upon nonce words began while reading Last Plane to Jakarta’s latest entry on the new Guns’n’Roses song (tangentially, we agree with LPTJ’s opinion on said song). The entry begins, “As everybody knows, we generally don’t roll with the wham-bam-linked-you-ma’am style here.” Now, all those lovely hyphens are forming a rather lengthy compound word, wham-bam-linked-you-ma’am, which is a play on the 1950 Dean Martin song, “Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am!” Deano’s tune contains no hyphenation, and in an utterly perfunctory search of the interweb, we couldn’t find any hyphenated versions of “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am” (excluding, web addresses, of course, who often substitute the spaces between words with hyphens). It would appear that LPTJ is the first, or at least one of the first, to turn this phrase into a word. His purpose? He was being funny. (We state this as simply as possible, because we feel like we have a stick getting pushed up our ass anytime we try to intellectually talk about why something like rhyming is funny. You try it. Fuckin’ sucks doesn’t it? Anyway, back to the post.)

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Foot & Meter: A Language Column

footmeter.jpgMr. Thursday has elected to amateurishly follow in the footsteps of Sol Steinmetz and William Safire (and countless others), and bring to you an occasional column on the use of language in the English speaking world. We shall attempt to address, as occasion leads us, both spoken and written word, and to discover and relate some of the nuance of this unnervingly anarchic language. Ambitiously, we’ll try to do all this in a fashion that can hold the interest of you, the reader.

Of the Title

Foot and meter are both prosodic terms, as they represent elements of classical poetry. Namely, a foot is a group of syllables constituting a metrical unit, whereas meter is the form that a grouping of feet may take. A determinate number of feet are present in each line for any meter.

Poetically, the foot and the meter are intricately linked, whereas in measure these two words are, generally speaking, opposed. They are basic units in rival systems of measure. It is the nature of this fascinating relationship–both enemies and friends, so to speak–that has earned Foot & Meter a role at the top of this page.

Of Beginnings

The Romans would have us believe that opposites are an excellent place to being anything, as Janus, the Roman god of doorways and beginnings is the god of both sunrise and sunset, as well. To emphasize Janus’ association with a subject and its foil, Janus was always depicted as a head with two faces looking in opposing directions. Janus is not the most well known of the Roman gods, but his bilateral head still appears surreptitiously throughout our unsuspecting society.

One such remaining form is the collection of words known as Janus words. These words, also known as contranyms, are words that serve as their own antonyms. There are not many of these words, and some verbs can be easily mistaken for them (more on that in a moment). The most common of these words at this time of the year is, in all likelihood, inoculate. This verb is generally used to articulate the preemptive treatment of patients for the flu and other common winter illnesses. However, its usage also includes the introduction of a disease into a body.

A better and comparably popular Janus word is oversight, as in the Senate’s Oversight Committee. This is an especially worrisome name for a group of high ranking decision-makers (“deciders”) as oversight varied meanings extend in ways the Senate would not be proud of, publicly. In their usage, oversight means “supervision”. However, oversight is also a mistake or an error. We’re certain the Senate Error Committee wouldn’t fly with “middle America”, though we at Mr. Thursday would like to vivaciously suggest the Senate “Whoops!” Committee to whomever is in charge of naming such things.

Other such words include sanction (“to allow permission”, and “to penalize for a violation”); cleave (“to split”, as well as “to adhere closely”); and clip (“to fasten or hold tightly”, and “to trim by cutting”).

A word that could easily be mistaken as a contranym is peruse. Peruse means “to read or examine thoroughly”, however, it is frequently misused to mean “to glance over”. This second definition is not accepted among the language experts who write dictionaries, however, if we are to use as a reference, we can learn that in 1988 66% of the members of their usage panel rejected this definition, while only 58% rejected the same definition in 1999. Peruse has a chance to become a Janus word, certainly.

Future entries will try to address more culturally and socially relevant language use.

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