Contracture. Cardiovascular. Calcemia. Each of these words and many more are part of the day-to-day vocabulary of Caroline Center certified nursing assistant and certified pharmacy technician trainees.
But, “covfefe?” Well, that’s something else altogether.
Each time I think I’ll never see such a week again in our nation’s capital, something happens to prove me wrong. And, this Memorial Day week is shaping up to be no exception.
As a writer, I am fascinated by words. I love words. I may even be a little obsessed with words. Case in point. Several years ago, my family had the pleasure of hosting a visiting student from Israel whose birth language, Hebrew, allowed him to experience English words and typical American expressions through quite a unique lens. One night at dinner, I asked the small group of visiting students if there was one word or expression that they had learned on their visit to the U.S. and to Baltimore, in particular, that was their favorite. Our visiting student, Raz, spoke up immediately and confidently. “Reisterstown!” he proclaimed. He was laughing so hard that he could hardly speak; and, soon everyone was doubled over with laughter and had tears in their eyes. No one knew just why “Reisterstown” was so darned funny; and, it was impossible for Raz to explain – either in Hebrew or English.
This week, enter the “covfefe” tweet. Everyone’s talking about it. But, why is it so funny? If we, as good citizens, are to take the cautionary wisdom offered up on more than several occasions to heart – that “the president’s tweets speak for themselves” – we’re all finding ourselves in a kind of linguistic limbo, doubled over, if not from laughter, than certainly from an existential crisis of language and thought.
“Covfefe?” “Coverage?” Something else? I don’t know. Who really knows? Ultimately, it’s not the spelling that’s so troubling. It’s everything else.
Lucky for us that social media is making certain that “covfefe” will not suffer an untimely death or a perilous slide into obscurity. The Urban Dictionary has already put forward a definition. And, it’s likely that the folks at Merriam-Webster – the ones who decide which words ought to be included in the dictionary and what those words will mean – are watching this one very carefully. Here’s why. Getting in the dictionary is simply a matter of frequent usage – and, “covfefe” is gaining ground. A word’s meaning is simply the result of how most people use the word – and, there are a growing number of “covfefe” definitions out there. So far, I like Senator Al Franken’s definition. “Covfefe.” A Yiddish expression for “I’ve got to go to bed now.” Amen.
Lucky for us, too, that “covfefe” sleepwalks into our lexicon during the week of the 90th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is taking place in Washington, DC, even as we speak – or, should I say, “tweet?” These expert spellers are a formidable group – all 15 years of age or younger – 291 strong – culled from a pool of 11 million students whose spelling competition prospects for 2017 might have come down to a single letter, not seven. I’m rooting for two competitors this year – Shaheer Imam, a 13-year-old from Catonsville, Maryland, who is back in competition for the second time after a five-year hiatus; and, Edith Fuller from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Edith is 6 years old and the youngest competitor ever in the National Spelling Bee – not this year, but last year, when she was a 5-year-old competitor. I think that they could both spell “covfefe;” and, I would give more than a penny for their thoughts to hear their definitions. I would bet that they also could spell the words that Google lists as those most frequently checked for spelling online this year by folks in their respective states. The spelling of the word “patient” apparently has stumped the most Oklahomans so far in 2017; and, the proper spelling for the word “special” has, it seems, tripped up the most Marylanders since January. By National Spelling Bee standards, both of these words are pieces of cake.
Well, it’s only Wednesday, and we’ve got half the week to go. Time enough for more shenanigans. Time for more distractions. Time still for more equally impossible entries into the lexicon of the English language.
And, just three days until the next SNL!
Speaking of SNL, for some of us, the word “special” will evoke Dana Carvey’s hilarious rendition of Enid Strict, The Church Lady – the rather stiff, smug, and overly pious host of her own talk show, “Church Chat.” In her blue and purple sweater dress set and peering over the top of her cat’s eye, horn-rimmed glasses, she would serially take her guests down a notch or two with the retort, “Well, isn’t that spe-cial?”
I love The Church Lady, superior dance and all. Now, 30 years later, I finally understand why. Enid Strict’s words may just be the perfect anecdote for our times. And, might I suggest, the best and most proper response to all of that late-night tweeting.
Do those tweets really speak for themselves? Well, when in doubt, and when the next 140-character midnight missive leaves you wondering and at wit’s end, try casting these four words in the general direction of the Twitter-verse . . . “Well, isn’t that spe-cial?”
COV·FE·FE imperative verb/Take immediate cover, he’s tweeting again.