Mailbag

by Jay Nordlinger

In Impromptus today, I speak of Megyn Kelly, the Fox News questioner. (This column is on last night’s debate.) I say that I have never seen that first name spelled that way: Megan and Meghan, yes, Megyn, no. Readers have chimed in, “What about Meaghan?!?!”

Oh, yeah, sorry — forgot about that one. Do I hear Megin? Meghin? What a flexible name, orthographically.

Second, “screwed”: Jon Huntsman said that’s what we Americans are getting, “screwed.” A reader writes,

I was surprised to see in your latest Impromptus that Huntsman had used the word “screwed” in such a formal setting. I was even more surprised when the priest at our local Catholic church used a related word from the pulpit. This was in reference to the new translation of the Mass. He said he expected we’d all “screw up” the words from time to time until we got used to them. I literally cringed when Father said that. Since when did the word “screw” become acceptable in polite conversation?

Um, if I had to date it — October 1989? Not sure. Just trying to kid a little. When I am in formal settings, I avoid the word “screw,” sometimes substituting “shaft.” But I fear the latter word is no better. And for “screw up,” I’m apt to say “mess up” or “louse up.” (Actually, I haven’t heard “louse up” in eons.)

Don’t you love “screw your courage to the sticking-place”? That fellow could write, seriously.

I remember when adults started to say “suck” instead of “stink,” in imitation of kids. That really made me cringe. I don’t think they realized how vulgarly we kids meant it. I remember when a teacher and coach of mine used the word: “That sucks, as you guys say!” I was shocked.

Now, it’s very, very common. There was a bumper sticker, some time ago, pretty popular: “Mean people suck.”

Somewhere in today’s column, I speak of Gov. Rick Perry and a certain politics of joy. “Remember the Hump?” I ask. I realize this is an ancient moniker, for an ancient politician: Hubert Horatio Humphrey, who was associated with — Cringe City — “the politics of joy.” (GHWB was associated with such phrases as “Cringe City.”)

Next up, and last up: “right as rain.” I use this British expression when saying something about Newt, and some readers have questioned the meaning. Does it really mean “Right you are” or “Spot-on”? Well, I have heard it used that way. I believe I learned the expression during my fellowships at Oxford and Cambridge. Or maybe while watching British sitcoms back home in Michigan. I forget which.

It’s tempting to sneak a “the” into the expression because of “Right as the Rain,” the Arlen-Harburg song. It goes, “Right as the rain that falls from above, so real, so right is our love.” Leontyne Price and André Previn recorded it on an album they made in the 1960s. In fact, it is the title song. I greatly admire both of these musicians, but it’s the only good track on the album, IMO.

Okay, I know you didn’t come here for music criticism . . .