Thursday, November 30, 2006


Words, Words, Words!

I have a love/hate relationship with words and phrases. Some are beautiful and communicate meanings exactly. Others are horrible and sound stupid. Here are some words and phrases that I either love or hate. See what you think.

“Ratched Up (Down)." - Stop it! Just stop it! This expression is so silly that even the damned broadcasters who use it often trip over it. “He needs to rachetetet up the pressure…” Just say increase. H

"Goes deep." - This is a terrible expression used by current baseball announcers. They use it to mean “He hit a home run!” It is absolutely misplaced. Hitters don’t go deep. Dr. Bob Ballard goes deep! H

Conundrum - There are three meanings to this word in Webster’s. There are actually just two, but Webster subdivided number 2 into a and b. That surely looks like a politician’s way of confusing the hell out of people by saying “I have two things to offer.” And then the pol actually subdivides his things and comes up with three. How does the pol justify doing that? Can he get away with it? I’m troubled by this. In fact, it’s a conundrum to me. L

Sesquipedalian - If you like to use big words to impress others, then you are a sesquiped (that’s “ses – qui - ped” you simpleton!). L

Payola - May it rest in peace. This word is never used anymore (or hardly ever). It is a contraction of the words “pay” and “Victrola.” The Victrola was a type of record player (what’s that?). Top disc jockeys were accused of accepting cash from record companies to promote certain records on the radio. It led to the downfall of the top DJ in the country in 1960, Alan Freed. L

Galoot - You got to love a word that describes such a person, a clumsy, awkward and/or uncouth type. Ya big galoot! L

Amok - It means a person on a murderous rampage. The word seems to have come home with European explorers in Malaysia. The native word was amouco, and the English gave it a twist resulting in “run amok.” L

Plethora - Have you ever had one? This is for us sophisticated folk who cannot just say “a whole bunch of…” We want to say, “There was a plethora of ideas.” It’s an excess or overabundance of something. Does this book contain a plethora of fun words? Or, maybe a whole bunch! L

"Happy as a clam." - Will it help to tell you that the entire phrase is “happy as a clam at high tide?” You see, nobody can dig up clams at high tide. Why else would a clam be happy? How would you know? Don’t worry. Be happy. L

"Over the top." - I’m somewhat ambivalent about this expression but I just cannot bring myself to use it. It’s so much easier to say “exaggerate” which means to distort through overstatement. Another meaning is “To increase or enlarge to an abnormal degree.” Isn’t that what people mean when they use the phrase “over the top?” It seems to me that “over the top” is a bit over the top. ?

"24-7" - There’s no charm to reciting a couple of numbers and assuming everyone knows what it means (they don’t). I prefer words to numbers. “Round the clock” is a phrase that makes me to conjure up an image of a large, circular (analog) clock with hands sweeping around in a continuous motion. Much better! H

"Wreak havok." - What else can we do with havok? We don’t make havok. We don’t do havok. We don’t have havok. We WREAK havok. I’m not sure exactly how one wreaks (I wreak. You wreak. He, she or it wreaks.). But when I do wreak I want it to be havok. L

Friday, November 03, 2006


Famous Film Duos

There have been some great duos over the years in Hollywood films: Gable and Lombard, Powell and Loy, Newman and Redford, Lancaster and Cravat.

What? Say that last one again. Lancaster and who?

Yes, Burt Lancaster had a sidekick, too, in many of his films. Didn’t you notice him? Perhaps that’s because he was only about five foot two inches tall and he rarely spoke. His name was Nick Cravat and he worked in numerous films with Burt. But they go further back than that. A lot of people know that Burt was a circus performer as a teenager. He was part of the high bar act of Lang and Cravat. Lang was Lancaster and Cravat was Nick Cravat. Nick adopted Cravat as his stage name from a Richard Dix movie character, Yancey Cravat. His real name was Cuccia.

Nick would later take on a TV role in a cult show, The Twilight Zone. He was the gremlin in a sort of monkey suit in the episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, with William Shatner. That’s the one where Shatner is a passenger on an airliner and believes he sees a gremlin out on the wing while in full flight, sort of a crazy wing walker. Oh, THAT Nick Cravat!

Nick never spoke on camera and, logically, people believed that he was a mute. But that’s not the case. Actually, he had such a thick New York accent that he was better off not speaking on camera. That was certainly the case in his period pieces like, The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow. He also played an Indian in the Disney production Davy Crockett at the Alamo. He played Busted Luck and communicated with Davy via sign language.

Although he worked extensively with Burt, Nick made his film debut in a Martin & Lewis movie called “My Friend Irma” in 1949. Later, Burt kept him on his payroll as his personal trainer. Nick died in 1994 but will live on forever in his films and TV appearances, especially as that little gremlin. Remember, at “the signpost up head, your next stop, The Twilight Zone.”

Burt’s successes are part of Hollywood history. He won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his role in Elmer Gantry. He was among the first major stars to begin independent film production, moving away from the old Hollywood system dominated by large production companies. He wrote, directed and produced as well as acted. And his image was larger than life.

I watched his 1956 film Trapeze recently on Turner Classic Movies. I’ve seen it several times but never fail to be entertained. Could the site of Gina Lollobrigida in tights have anything to do with that? And it was one of the better acting performances for young Tony Curtis.

Burt was in his early forties when he made that film. He was trim and fit, not an ounce of fat on him, and he did most of his own stunts on the trapeze and high ropes. He dominated every scene he was in, except for those shots of Gina.

Lang and Cravat are gone now, but fortunately we can enjoy their work over and over. And there is a lot of it.

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