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Monday, July 17, 2006

Explicatively Expletive 

When I was in college, I once received a phone call at about 1:30 in the morning. The caller was someone whom I did not know, but was with one of my friends from church and was told that I would definitely know the answer to her question. "What was the name of Barney Rubble's wife on the Flintstones?" (Come on, that's an easy one... it's Betty.) Apparently, my reputation for being a man of a thousand useless facts had been sealed.

It had long been rumored that as a youth I spent most Saturday mornings locked in the bathroom with a box of Trivial Pursuit cards trying to memorize all the answers. The fact is that I do recall at least once using my little brother's junior trivia game for bathroom reading material, but I would stop short of calling it a habit.

In reality, my prowess at that particular game likely stems from a combination of having played close to 50 complete games (and that's just against the one competitor - we stopped keeping score with a record around 20 wins and 20 losses each - there's no telling how many other random family games I may have partaken in...) and having an over-developed aptitude for retaining information that I don't need. Don't ask me to remember where I put my wallet, what time we agreed to meet, or who called. But you need to know the names of the three tunnels in The Great Escape? (Tom, Dick, and Harry.) Over which eye did Moshe Dayan wear a patch? (Obviously his left.) How about the highest mountain peak in Finland? (Halti.)

Unfortunately, this uncanny knack for knowing stuff that no one else cares about has not resulted in any financial windfalls. It does, however, garner me the ocassional amusing phone call like the one I received the other day, ostensibly from my sister (although I found out later that she had handed the phone to Lauren and I was talking to her the entire time). The query: "What's the difference between explicative and expletive?"

Explicative is usually a very detailed and thorough explanation of something that often unravels many complexities.

Expletive, on the other hand, is derived from the Latin verb to fill, and is a word that is added but does not contribute any significant meaning. Only in recent years has the word taken on a primary understanding to include profanity, obscenity, or vulgarity. This was probably due to its frequent inclusion in the court records of the transcripts of Richard Nixon's recorded phone calls as "Expletive Deleted". Although the phrase technically could have stood for any extraneous material not germaine to the legal matter at hand, it was clear that it had been substituted for language outside the bounds of common decency.

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If ir was a word, in and of itself, I could now tell everyone I know that it is an irrelevant expletive.

- ted


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