The problem with Latin is that it sounds all egg-heady. Cocktails, which could conceivably both have eggs in them and go to your head, nonetheless rarely have egg-heady names. Would you raise a Pulchritude to your parched lips? Nope, it’s an American Beauty. Sip a Vehicle? Sorry, try a Sidecar. Our Old English, Celtic and Anglo Saxon words just sound better to put in your mouth. They’ve got chewier textures, a whiff of sensuality, the promise of tasting good. Browse a bartending guide and you’ll find Fizzes, Flips and Rickeys, Cobblers, Coolers and Kirs, Sours, Slings and Sledgehammers, Sharks, Derbies, Zombies and Knickerbockers. But Latinate names? I count only five that even come close.
The first two that spring to mind, Cosmopolitan and Metropolitan, are both from the Greek, -politan meaning citizenship, and the prefixes from words for world and city. The Cosmopolitan is the citizen of the world, the Metropolitan of the city. Greek, as we know, is not Latin, but these two words do sound a bit egg-heady, and so they share the problem of Latin, a disembodiment from the senses. Another candidate is the Ideal Cocktail, idea- again from the Greek word meaning to see, which implies that our ideals are more tangible than we think. Judge is Latinate, and there’s a Judge, Jr. cocktail—does that count? I don’t think so. The name is so clearly straining to convert the beverage into a person, and no matter how Latinate a person’s name, a person remains rooted in the body. Personification, an egg-heady word, trumps egg-headiness. Personification in fact does the opposite of how it sounds.
Finally, there’s the Income Tax Cocktail, made from gin, both kinds of vermouth, orange juice and bitters. That ought to get your 1099s in shape. Come is an Anglo Saxon word, one of our oldies, but in- as a prefix we get from Latin. Tax comes through Old French to us from the Latin word for touch. Touch sharply. Ouch. Luckily, income taxes only hurt when you have a lot of income. Many of us feel no pain in this regard, but that doesn’t prevent us from chortling about April 15, which is exactly why I have to disqualify this name, too. It’s a joke about Latinate names, the joke being that we respond to the intellectual challenge of our Latinate vocabulary much as we do to IRS instructions like “If your spouse itemizes on a separate return or you were a dual-status alien, see page 35 and check here”--by resorting to drink.
Now compare the juicy, earthy names of cocktails to this quote from Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights on the news that, roughly a year after his execution by an anti-abortion fanatic, Dr. Tiller’s clinic will close:
It is unacceptable that anti-abortion intimidation and violence has led to the closing of Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Not only have we lost a fearless defender of women’s fundamental health and rights in Dr. Tiller’s murder, but the closing of his clinic leaves an immediate and immense void in the availability of abortion.
This chunk of text is teeming with Latinate words, from unacceptable intimidation to immense availability. Did you notice that somewhere buried in the middle of the passage is the Anglo Saxon word murder? Probably not. It’s surrounded by more mumbo-jumbo than the Nicene Creed. Now, I have no doubt Northup is pissed. I’m pissed, too. Good grief, some nut job kills a guy in church…and it works! But she doesn’t sound pissed in her quote. She sounds egg-heady.
By the way, here's Scott Roeder, the guy who did it. Egg head? I don't think so.
A few paragraphs later, one of Tiller’s colleagues pipes up in equally dry, Latinate terms to say that he is “currently exploring every option to be able to continue to make second- and early, medically indicated third-trimester abortions available.” Huh? Where is the outrage? Why couldn’t he say something more along the lines of “I won’t let those fuckers get away with slaughtering their way to what they want”?
Meanwhile, what word do the folks at Operation Rescue, those church goers who oppose abortion with their blood-dripping fangs bared, use to describe their point of view? “Bittersweet.” Taste it. Feel it. Bittersweet is all Anglo Saxon, all cocktail. (Truly. The recipe is an Income Tax without the gin.) Okay, left-leaners out there. It’s time to scrub your vocabulary of all those Latinate words and take a page from our God-fearing right-wing friends upon whom the gruesome facts of Tiller’s murder—remember, he was killed while ushering in a church, during the service, with the other God-fearing parishioners standing right there—seem to have had no dampening effect. Bittersweet, as in, “sure, it’s a tad bitter that someone who’s not really a member exactly of our organization shot the guy, but how sweet he’s dead!”
Unfortunately, you can find myriad examples of egg-head names for progressive policies which just don’t stack up to the chewy language of the right wing: We say “environmentalist,” they say “tree-hugger.” We say “affirmative action,” they say “set-asides for blacks.” We say “anti-poverty program,” they say “Welfare Queen.” Even a weak locution like “government takeover” sounds more forceful than “public option.” Let’s call the whole Latinate thing off, because it makes our ideas less persuasive, our ideals harder to see. From now on, if it’s not in Mr. Boston’s, it shouldn’t be on our tongues.