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George Carlin's Essential Drivel

Euphemisms, Redundancies, and Soft Language

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George Carlin's Essential Drivel

George Carlin (1937-2008)

Words fascinated George Carlin. From his early routine on "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" to the inventory of euphemisms in "Airline Announcements," language--especially bent or abused or "soft" language--was his recurrent theme. "By and large," he once said, "language is a tool for concealing the truth."

Carlin, who died in 2008, clearly knew a thing or two about claptrap--and twaddle, poppycock, balderdash, gobbledygook, and drivel. In fact, "drivel" was the word he used to describe his own writings--"Good, funny, occasionally smart, but essentially drivel" (Napalm & Silly Putty, Hyperion, 2001).

For an example of Carlin's drivel, consider his short essay "Count the Superfluous Redundant Pleonastic Tautologies." The essay doesn't include all 200 of the common redundancies in our own list, but it comes close:

My fellow countrymen, I speak to you as coequals, knowing you are deserving of the honest truth. And let me warn you in advance, my subject matter con­cerns a serious crisis caused by an event in my past history: the execution-style killing of a security guard on a delivery truck. At that particular point in time, I found myself in a deep depression, making mental errors which seemed as though they might threaten my future plans. I am not over-exaggerating.

I needed a new beginning, so I decided to pay a social visit to a personal friend with whom I share the same mutual objectives and who is one of the most unique individuals I have ever personally met. The end result was an un­expected surprise. When I reiterated again to her the fact that I needed a fresh start, she said I was exactly right; and, as an added plus, she came up with a fi­nal solution that was absolutely perfect.

Based on her past experience, she felt we needed to join together in a com­mon bond for a combined total of twenty-four hours a day, in order to find some new initiatives. What a novel innovation! And, as an extra bonus, she presented me with the free gift of a tuna fish. Right away I noticed an immedi­ate positive improvement. And although my recovery is not totally complete, the sum total is I feel much better now knowing I am not uniquely alone.
(When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? Hyperion, 2004)

Behind Carlin's comic observations lay the sharp linguistic insights of a self-described "disappointed idealist."

"Question everything you read or hear or see or are told," he recommended in a 2004 CNN interview. "Question it. And try to see the world for what it actually is, as opposed to what someone or some company or some organization or some government is trying to represent it as, or present it as, however they've mislabeled it or dressed it up or told you."

Now that Carlin has passed on, kicked off, checked out, made his exit, gone to glory, cashed in his chips, and joined the great majority to sleep the big sleep, we wouldn't dare say nice things about him. It's too late for that.

It's a perverse fact that in death you grow more popular. As soon as you're out of everyone's way, your approval curve moves sharply upward. You get more flowers when you die than you got your whole life. All your flowers arrive at once. Too late.
(Napalm & Silly Putty, Hyperion, 2001)
So we'll just say, thank you, George. Thanks for all the drivel.

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