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Gimme Shelter: Snow speech

I was thinking the other day about the Sarah Palin/William Shakespeare nexus, which led my mind to wander (it happens) that I’ve been disappointed we haven’t had more snow this winter. This will make sense later — maybe, no promises, you’re on your own here, the management will take no responsibility if …

Then, presto! Tuesday’s snow was an unexpected Valentine. And then, this morning’s frosting was another beautiful gift.

I miss blizzards. Yeah, I know, I know. I once had a colleague who was appalled by the very idea of snow. He took cold weather personally, wearing a watch cap – indoors – whenever temps slid below 50. He was a born and bred Floridian, so we took pity.

Another colleague on a business paper never failed to point out that businesses suffered mightily when flakes fell, ending his rant with, “You like snow? Move to Vermont. Leave me alone.”

But this year, for me the scarcity of snow is not just being cheated out of the joys of being snowbound, paroled from the prison of routine. It’s also missing the hope of seeing again a wordsmith who was on TV one afternoon mid-blizzard a few years ago. He was getting down from his Suffolk County snowplow just in time to be ambushed by a reporter sticking a microphone in his face, demanding to know the condition of the roads.

Startled, he paused, and then said, “It’s tredjadous out here.”

But it got even better, since my poet couldn’t stop using his storm-minted word. It was tredjadous on the expressway. Sunrise Highway? Really tredjadous. But the side streets? “Forget it, it’s too tredjadous.”

Making a point, I assume, that if you’re not guarding against treachery, as Shakespeare warned, tragedy awaits.

Now, the uncharitable would say he just got tongue-tangled and brain-bewitched and couldn’t find a way back to sense. But the Bard would have joined me in a toast to the man who had committed a portmanteau, creating a new word out of two old ones.

Shakespeare was famous for it. For example, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” an aristocrat is angry someone has threatened to “infamonize” him, or defaming and making him infamous at the same time.

That other wizard of English, Ms. Palin (remember her?), in her very first tweet way back when, portmanteaued by writing “refudiate,” and when called on it she fell back on bardolatry, tweeting, “Shakespeare liked to coin new words, too. Got to celebrate it!”

My estimation of Mama Grizzly soared when I heard.

And can we trace the origin of the modern attitude of souped-up sarcasm to Lewis Carroll, who invented a new animal from a snake and a shark, the “snark?”

Of all the quirks of English, including spoonerisms — we hear ourselves with horror saying the father of our country’s natal day is “Birthington’s washday,” — or mondegreens — mishearing “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes” as “The girl with colitis goes by” — the malaprop is the most common and gets us into the most trouble.

President George W. Bush was a master of the malaprop, as well as the portmanteau: “They misunderestimated me.” (Interesting that the president voters said they’d feel most comfortable having a beer with didn’t drink, and half the time when he opened his mouth you’d swear he was hammered.)

George W. knew how difficult it was to put food on our families, and that, “America is where wings take dream.”

We’ll cut him some slack, however, because Mr. Bush wasn’t the first president to lose fights with his mother tongue. The poet E.E. Cummings had a one-sentence obituary for President Warren G. Harding: “The only man, woman or child who ever wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors.”

And now we have two guys running for president who act, at times, as if English is their second (third?) language.

I come from a long line of malapropers. At a gala wedding anniversary celebration for my parents, with the entire clan gathered around, my mother clinked her wine glass with her knife to silence the crowd. “Here’s to you, Bill,” she raised her glass to her beloved. “We’ve been through sick and sin.”

The story is now family legend. But like the man on the snowplow, and remembering my mother’s smile, I’ve never been certain if the hilarious faux pas weren’t just a bit calculated.