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Kyle Gann posted this note on his blog, PostClassic:

Thank You, Sarah Palin

We in American music owe a great debt to John McCain and Sarah Palin. Those two have so cheapened and tainted the word “maverick” that it will be at least a generation, maybe two, before anyone will be able to use the word non-ironically again. And that means, surely, that there will be no more talk about the “American maverick composers.”

As I’ve written here before, the musicological purpose of the word “maverick” is to legitimize certain handpicked composers despite the unconventionality (as compared with alleged European norms) of their composing methods, and to do so without de-marginalizing all the other composers who share those methods. What we need is for the methods themselves to be legitimized, so that a true pluralism of aesthetics can be accepted into discourse. The “maverick” image of Cage, Nancarrow, Lou Harrison, La Monte Young as lone dissenters – composers who, after all, had teachers, friends, students, protégés with whom they shared ideas and developed their creativity collectively – was always a palpable fiction. And no one who watched Palin vacuously self-identify as a maverick at the end of the vice-presidential debate will ever be able to use the word seriously again, thank god.

“Maverick musicians” isn’t the only term that may be taken out of circulation. With only a few days to go, there are a few others with limited lifespans:

“my friends” (although better than “my fellow prisoners”)
mavericky (thank you Tina Fey and Seth Myers)
socialist (that’s so last century)
“spreading the wealth”
folkisms like betcha, doncha, gosh darn it
children’s names that are better suited for pets
“verbage” (not a real word, but conveniently rhymes with garbage…)
“community organizer” sneeringly used as a pejorative
hockey mom
lipstick (on anything untoward)


Lifelong friend Liz Razovich sent me a list of words culled from a book that I ordered for myself: The Meaning of Tingo, by Adam Jacot de Boinod.

Here’s a sample:

Tingo: A Pascuense language word from Easter Island that means borrowing items from a pal’s house, one by one, until there is nothing left.

Kummerspeck: a German word that literally means “grief bacon” but refers to the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating.

Bakku-shan: Japanese for a woman who “seems pretty when seen from behind but not from the front.”

Ulykkesbilen: Danish for an “ill-fated car.”

Nakkele: From Tulu, India, this describes a man who licks whatever the food has been served on.

Drachenfutter: A German word that is “dragon fodder” when translated literally, but means the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives.

Backpfeifengesicht: German for a face that cries out for a fist in it.

Jacot de Boinod perused over 280 dictionaries and trawled 140 websites to prepare the book. “What I’m really trying to do is celebrate the joy of foreign words (in a totally nonjudgmental way) and say that while English is a great language, one shouldn’t be surprised there are many others having, as they do, words with no English equivalent,” he says.

Some of the reviews of the book on Amazon are a bit harsh, accusing him of a “casual” approach to the translations and research. But Jacot de Boinod hasn’t lost any time creating an entire franchise around this one idea. Hey, all the more power to him. The book is fun, and I’m always on the look out for that.

I was intrigued by an article in the Summer 2007 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review titled Discovering “Unk-Unks”, by John W. Mullins.

“Unk-Unks” is an engineering term that means unknown-unknowns.* Mullins, a professor at London Business School, focuses his article on entrepreneurs since he contends that the Unk Unks are the mostly likely obstacle to a startup long term success.

But it is also a concept I can use in my line of work. How does as artist go about making a list of what you can’t see and don’t yet understand? Market research conducted in the imaginal zone?

I’d rather think of the Unk Unks as a playful invitation to dance, to float freely in the nonlinear realms, to prognosticate with abandon, to envision at will, to give way to reverie, lollygagging and daydreaming.

Besides, I can’t employ a word that playful to describe portentious doom or demise. It’s the squeeze sound of a child’s stuffed animal, not a sad fate or a villain lurking just around the next corner.

* This cheery and essentially upbeat term should not be confounded with the now infamous passage from that former Dark Lord Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, spoken with a straight face at a press conference during the early days of the Iraq nightmare: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”