[Ads-l] Synaesthesia strikes ADS-L!

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 26 17:33:03 EDT 2021


On Wed, May 26, 2021 at 2:33 PM James Landau wrote:

> On Tue, 25 May 2021 15:18:43 Bonnie Taylor-Blake wrote:
> "The last slang phrase in the piece, which caused me to blush out loud"
> The context is <begin quote>
> I'm also sharing an example of an odd "a big megillah" from 1952, though I
> don't think its meaning is explained correctly. (As a matter of fact, I'm
> also unsure about the meaning of the last slang phrase in the piece, which

caused me to blush out loud when I first saw it, but then I recognized that

the meaning may have to do with what the OED defines as "[a] foolish,
> incompetent, or contemptible person.")
>
> To the lexicography of TV, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, packagers
> extraordinaire of CBS-TV's "It's News to Me," and "What's My Line" have
> included such mysterious coinage as: "A big megillah," which is TV argot
> for snafu; "The show's a bomb" (flop); "Everything's Tom" (things are
> unsatisfactory), and "Let's try a new Schlongg" (trick or stunt).
>
> <end quote>
>

Setting aside whether one can blush out loud, the item that provoked the
reaction is an interesting one. Relevant to this use of "schlong(g)" is
this cite that Garson shared on the list in 2015:

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2015-December/140199.html

On Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 1:01 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
>
> [ref] 1954 August 20, St. Petersburg Times, Radio and Television:
> Television's 'Schlongs', Their Antics Described by John Crosby, Quote
> Page 34, Column 1, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News
> Archive)[/ref]
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> You know what a schlong is? If you have followed the careers of Ralph
> Edwards or "Beat the Clock" or any other shows of that ilk, you have
> seen a lot of schlongs. A schlong, to end this suspense, is a rather
> messy stunt. A contestant gets a pie in the face. The audience howls.
> That is a schlong.
> [End excerpt]

Garson was responding to this Politico piece I wrote at the time:

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/12/donald-trump-schlong-perils-of-vulgarity-213459/

Looking back on this now, it seems the word "schlong" may have been living
a double life. The use of "schlong" meaning "trick or stunt" could have
been intended to be onomatopoetic -- the sound of slapstick, like a pie in
the face. It's possible that this led to a verb "schlong" meaning "suffer
an ignominious fate" (as discussed in my Politico piece) independent of the
Yiddish vulgarism. Or perhaps more likely, the Yiddishism secretly informed
this other more innocuous usage, at least for those in show business who
were familiar with it.

--bgz

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