By Gallagher and Schleicher
LONDON – While legal experts will have years if not decades to debate the impact of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court, linguists can already agree on one thing about the controversial nominee: he’s a boon to the English language.
“It’s really quite remarkable,” we are told by Clive Snoddy III, Ph.D., editor of Ye Olde Modern English Dictionary. “There are already dozens of uses of the judge’s name to be found in spoken, written and shouted applications of the English idiom, and he was only sworn in over the weekend.”
Proper names often work their way into everyday language, Snoddy explained, although this is usually found with brand names. “Over the years, Xerox, Band-Aid or Kleenex have all become interchangeable with their generic counterparts. But Kavanaugh shows amazing speed – hours rather than decades – as well as versatility. The name can be used as a noun, verb or adjective.”
Language scholars have been tracking the etymology of as many as two dozen new words or phrases linked to the old Irish family name, some dating back to as far as the special Beach Week Edition (1988) of The Unknown Hoya.
The most common, new use of Kavanaugh is as a noun: an angry male, who really likes beer; a tearful, shouted rebuttal to charges of sexual assault; a sneering bully. According to Dr. Snoddy, nouns are easily interchanged. “’Don’t be such a Kavanaugh’ is a natural way to convey entitlement and boorishness, while ’Of course he pulled a Kavanaugh – he was hammered’ suggests an obvious over-reaction to an accusation one was likely too drunk to recall.”
Shifting proper names to verbs happens less frequently, but in some cases the transition happens naturally. As an action word, Kavanaugh has come to have multiple meanings: unwanted sexual advances (“Dude, you can’t just Kavanaugh a woman at the bar like that”) to acts of casual mendacity (“He had to Kavanaugh on a few of those words in his high school yearbook, or everyone would see what a Kavanaugh he was”). In the corporate setting, “he Kavanaughed the interview” now means to completely screw it up, yet to nonetheless be hired for a high level job.
Concurrent to Justice Kavanaugh’s name taking on a dozen new definitions, Dr. Snoddy instructs us that the Queen’s English has been enriched by the related congressional hearings in many other ways as well. For example, while “Devil’s Triangle” had an existing meaning (not fit for a family newspaper), it now refers also to a fictitious drinking game, as well as to the practice of having your best high school buddy hide out at a Delaware beach house so he’s less likely to be expected to testify.
“Boof” similarly refers to a topic not printable here and also now—per Justice Kavanaugh—to flatulence. The third new meaning being tracked by Dr. Snoddy he traces to the root of “big spoof” which becomes merely “boof” when repeated often enough. This new meaning is demonstrated with the sentence, “Might be guilty after all—better if we boof it for cover.” As used here, “boof” refers to conducting an FBI investigation, but under time and scope constraints that make it futile.
“Judicial temperament” has taken on new meaning too. It now can be an abbreviated form of “judicial temper tantrum” or in other contexts describe the ability to disguise one’s views of Roe v. Wade just long enough to get on the court and overturn it.
Another fascinating turn of phrase is Kavanaugh’s use of “what comes around goes around.” We accept his word that this was in no way a threat to get even with liberals for questioning his moral boofitude. Dr. Snoddy explains the other potential definition is that “he who pays off your gambling debts shortly before a confirmation hearing is owed one denied subpoena.”
We hope to soon hear from Dr. Snoddy on our own submission, a proposal to include in next year’s dictionary Sen. Lindsey Graham’s phrase at the hearings: “the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.” We propose it be cross-referenced with “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde,” to refer to a politician who was known for his insistence on reasonableness and bipartisanship now devolving into a raging beast intent on becoming the next U.S. Attorney General.
David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London, England, and tweeting @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher is an attorney who blogs at ContranymTimes.com.