December 12, 2019

Casey Stengel asked the right question

The late, great Casey Stengel, ex-manager of the New York Yankees and the New York Mets and the unparalleled master of fractured English, once lent his name to a book titled, “Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?,” which was about a dreadful early Mets team. As I watch the television news and read the morning newspaper these days, the same question occurs to me with respect to my cohorts in the communications business.

Supposedly learned talking heads on television — including an inordinate number of high-powered lawyers you’d think would know better, having paid dearly for an Ivy League law school education — insist on calling an affidavit an ITAL “affidavid,” UNITAL suggesting the strong probability that they can’t spell the word, either.

The guy responsible for naming hurricanes decides to go uptown on us with the French spelling of George for the latest mega-storm to sweep the South, throwing the rip-and-read newscasters for a serious loss with “Georges.” The frauds attempt to show off their alleged mastery of the French language and come across sounding much like the late Peter Sellers’ daffy Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame; the honest ones are content to call a Georges a plain old Americanized George; others bastardize and mangle the moniker into some strange hybrid of the two versions.

It rarely occurs to sportscasters and ex-jocks broadcasting football or hockey games that the term is “offside,” not “offsides,” leaving little doubt what they might do with “affidavit” should it ever have to be worked into the play-by-play. To give credit where credit is due, however, the same crowd also perfected the “ya-know” interview (average number of repetitions in a three-minute interview: 43) without which there could be no sports-speak as we know it today, so there you go.

At a highway accident scene, television cameras will show a pickup truck and a tractor-trailer rig all stove to hell in the background and the reporter will gush into the camera, “Police say that no one in either car was injured…”

The same people refer to all evergreens as “pine” trees, and, although they may be technically correct, it still aggravates. The every-green-tree-is-pine proponents are kin to the bozos who stand in front of a gasoline pump that sports a sign advertising gasoline at $1.02.9 per gallon and report to viewers that the price is a buck-two per gallon, rather than $1.03. (As the owners of mom-and-pop stores are learning, percentages are not always all that they are cracked up to be; i.e., a 6 percent Maine state sales tax reduced to 5 1/2 percent in time for the November elections is still a six percent tax to an osbolete cash register.)

Geographically speaking, we are often ill-served by Media Person, who gives us “Frenchman’s Bay” rather than Frenchman Bay and “St. John, N.B.” rather than Saint John, N.B., as the Associated Press stylebook mandates in order to distinguish that city from St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Media Person is also fond of using “bring” when he means “take,” and “less” when he means “fewer,” not to mention “farther” for “further,” and vice versa in all of the above. Call him on it, however, and you likely will get the Bill Clinton all-purpose defense: It depends on what you mean by “bring…”

Trying to ride herd on such misdemeanors can make an editor long for something as comparitively simple as translating into the mother tongue the prose of the aforementioned trail-blazing linguist, Casey Stengel.

Testifying before a congressional committee investigating the need for baseball anti-trust legislation in 1958, Stengel came up with a masterpiece. According to the Congressional Record, he told the committee, “I got a little concerned yesterday in the first three innings when I saw the three players I had gotten rid of, and I said when I lost nine what am I going to do. And when I had a couple of my players I thought so great of that did not do so good up to the sixth inning I was more confused, but I finally had to go and call on a young man from Baltimore that we don’t own and the Yankees don’t own, and he is doing pretty good, and I would actually have to tell you that I think we are more the Greta Garbo type now from success.”

My treasured and oft-quoted “365 Stupidest Things Ever Said” desk calendar claims that when lawmakers asked Mickey Mantle his opinion on the topic he replied, “My views are just about the same as Casey’s.” NEWS columnist Kent Ward lives in Winterport.

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