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Kraken, Chiang, Etc.

Former president George H. W. Bush applauds newly inaugurated president Bill Clinton on January 20, 1993. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters)

Impromptus today is headed “Meet the in-laws, &c.” I suppose the heading is a hybrid of two movies: Meet the Parents, the 2000 comedy, and The In-Laws, the 1979 comedy, remade in 2003. I begin today’s column with a section on talented in-law pairings. (You’ll see.)

I move on to — what you might call more conventional topics, including the politics of the moment. In recent days, I’ve learned the phrase “release the kraken” — or is it “Kraken”? It comes from a movie, speaking of those: from Clash of the Titans, made in 1981, and remade in 2010.

“Release the kraken” put me in mind of “unleash Chiang.” Do you remember that cry, from Cold War days? George Bush the Elder would sometimes use it on the tennis court. Before uncorking a big serve, he might say, “Gonna unleash Chiang.”

In this period of presidential transition — non-transition? — I have thought of Bush. Until this year, he was the most recent incumbent president to lose at the polls. He took it like a man, of course. That’s how he was raised, and that’s what his generation more broadly stood for.

Walt Harrington once told a poignant story, which I cite in my column. In December 1992, Harrington told Bush that he was sorry about the election — about the president’s defeat the month before. Bush said, “You know the worst thing about it, Walt? The embarrassment. It’s just so embarrassing.”

One can imagine, or try to.

Would you care for some reader mail? I’d like to publish two notes, concerning language. In a column last week, I spoke of two phrases: “intended on” and “on accident.”

Growing up in Michigan, I heard “intended on,” from southerners. We had a lot of southerners in Michigan, both white and black: They had come to work in the auto factories, largely. “We intended on having a cook-out last Saturday, but it rained.”

Only recently — last five, ten years? — have I heard “on accident,” instead of “by accident.” I had never heard it in all my life. It seems to be gaining ground.

So, the two notes from readers. First:

I’m 68 years old and grew up in Lower Manhattan, where I still live. “Intended on” was in common usage here, too.

I’ll be darned. And our second note:

I’m from the East Coast and grew up saying “by accident.”

I was shocked, 25 years ago, to hear my then-five-year-old son — born and thereafter raised in California — say “on accident.”

Apparently, everybody — and I mean everybody — in California (who is a native Californian and below a certain age) says “on accident.”

It was explained to me that it came from “on purpose.” The opposite of “on purpose” logically should be “on accident.” Or so it must have seemed to some trend-setting five-year-old Californian in the 1970s or ’80s.

You get used to hearing it after 25 years. But I still say “by accident.”

Again, today’s Impromptus — with yet more language notes, ’mid the other notes — is here.

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