Wednesday is the heaviest day of the year for air travel in the U.S. With TSA pat downs dominating the news cycle for days now, travelers have been alerted to possible screening slowdowns as passengers are encouraged to opt out of the body scanners in favor of more time-consuming pat downs. This is the last thing Thanksgiving travelers want to encounter, the worst nightmare at the start of, for many, a four-day weekend: The dreaded Delay.
Americans despise delays. We devote hours of early morning air time and untold gallons of copter fuel to inform our morning commutes in order to conserve, as best we can, our personal fuel purchased at prices we perceive as exorbitant no matter what that price might be. as well as to conserve our precious time. “Time is money,” we say, and it is true! Late arrival at work might get your pay or vacation time docked. Too many late arrivals can get you fired. Not good news in a bad economy.
Of course it is unlikely that your family will dock or fire you for a late arrival at Thanksgiving, unless you make them wait to cut the turkey. But Americans are among the hardest and longest working people on earth. So when we hit the roads and air routes on “getaway day,” we do so with the same obsession to “make good time” as we do when commuting to work. Clearly the “opt out” movement is going to be disconcerting to many travelers this holiday by delaying the screening process and, as a result, possibly departure times.
No we do not like to lose or waste time. Who does? This predilection is reflected in our language. When was the last time a native speaker of American English told you s/he had influenza, rode the omnibus to work, had to have laboratory work done, proclaimed him/herself to be a Giants fanatic? (I could go on. You get my point.) We clip these words because we do not have time to say all those syllables. Time is money! We clip our words, and the clippings rise in currency, sometimes to the extent that we cannot immediately remember the original form, if we ever knew it – an experience I had last night when I really had the think about where “diss” comes from.
I was explaining the behavior of a character in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” at the time. The episode was compelling because we saw women get the vote last night, (YAY!) and we began to see Irish immigrant and widow Margaret Schroeder commence what may become a political career. (Parenthetically: I hope HBO allows her character to develop along these lines rather than cut her off at the knees the way Showtime did Princess Mary in “The Tudors, who began showing signs of a hard, cruel edge in the final two episodes ever. I would have liked to have seen how she became who she was.) But I digress.
In another scene, “Nukie” Thompson’s manservant/bodyguard, as one of Nukie’s rivals enters the room, asks if he should frisk the visitor. What? Oh! WAIT! We HAVE a perfectly good, one-syllable word that we American time-freaks are eschewing in favor of a longer two-syllable compound? It is downright Un-American! “Pat down” in favor of the more efficient “frisk?” WTF? It is so short, I actually had to check the etymology. It has that Anglo-Saxon ring to it.
- 1510s, “to dance, frolic,” from M.Fr. frisque “lively, brisk,” possibly from a Germanic source (cf. M.Du. vrisch “fresh”). Sense of “pat down in a search” first recorded 1781. Related: Frisked; frisking.
(Aha! “pat down” is in there! And it is fresh!)
Obviously it has to do with framing, a component of metaphor development brilliantly analyzed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press, 1980) a skill long ago mastered by Republicans and traditionally elusive to Democrats until now perhaps. The impact of “pat down” is related to other collocations of the word “pat.” A pat on the back, a love pat, a pat on the cheek or head, whether metaphorical or physical, are all perceived with positive connotations. So how can a pat down be negative?
“Frisking,” on the other hand, is done by mobsters like Nukie Thompson’s henchmen or the police upon executing an arrest. Goodness gracious, we would never be frisking tiny children, grandmothers, nuns, and sundry other solid citizens unlikely to be threatening their fellow humans, of course not! No, we simply “pat them down.” It sounds so gentle and affectionate, contrary to the description by some who have experienced it.
Thus we are lulled into a sense of the pat down being a loving gesture performed for the sake of everyone’s well-being. Nice metaphor! Not everyone is mollified, however, by our current, culturally discordant propensity for the longer, more awkward term rather than the less time consuming “frisk.” This little video clip from yesterday is apparently on an endless loop at some news channels.
No, our lovely, and for so many reasons, eminently “pattable” Head Homegirl would not like to be patted down if she could avoid it. Hmmmmmmm. The Democrats finally succeed in framing something, and the most prominent female Democrat (non-political though she may have to be as SOS) slices right through the comfort zone. “Who would?” Indeed! She does not want anybody getting fresh with her! No, neither do we.
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