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Grammar Guy: Pardon my harsh letters

By Curtis Honeycutt

My wife and I are in a stage of parenting where we cannot get away with spelling words aloud around the kids anymore. Our son is a great reader and can sniff out a secret-parent-spelling code faster than you can spell i-c-e c-r-e-a-m.

Because of this, we use a language where we spell out words, except that consonants
are pronounced with their letter plus the sound “ong” at the end of them, while vowels are pronounced normally. So, my name would be “Cong-u-rong-tong-i-song.” The
kids will never catch o-nong.

Letters are powerful. In polite society, many people are too shy to say delicate or harsh words, opting instead to use initials. Have you ever heard someone’s boss described as a “real S.O.B.?” Believe me, “S.O.B.” does not stand for “super outstanding boss.”

When we use initialisms like this as a substitute for harsh words, it is called a “eusystolism” (pronounced yoo-SIST-o-lism). A eusystolism is the offspring of an initialism and a euphemism.

Eusystolisms have made it into popular culture. Kenya Barris, creator of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish,” created and stars in a Netflix sitcom called “#blackAF.” Let’s just say the “AF” doesn’t stand for “Abercrombie and Fitch.” People avoid uttering this particular
profanity by merely saying, “Oh F!”

Mr. T portrayed the memorable character Bosco Albert “B.A.” Baracus in the 1980s action-adventure show “The A-Team.” Although “B.A” were the initials of the character’s first and middle name, the “B.A.” supposedly stood for “bad attitude.” I agree that the “B” stood for “bad,” but my opinion is that the “A” stood for something you couldn’t say on TV in the ‘80s. Perhaps it’s still unacceptable in a newspaper in 2021, so I’ll just say the “A” is the animal that talked to Balaam in the biblical book of Numbers chapter 22.

Eusystolisms serve our texting culture well. The briefer the better, right? Chat room culture of the late ‘90s gave us LOL, which means “laughing out loud.” Today, if someone texts “LMAO,” they’re sending you a eusystolism stating that they are laughing their Balaam’s animal off. While we’re at it — no — WTF does not stand for “why the face?” Instead, it’s a eusystolism for “what the (fill-in-the-blank).” Using these initialisms gets around the loophole of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Pardon the harsh letters, but now you know all about eusystolisms.

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