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Everybody Out Of The Box

Somebody actually told me recently to "think outside the box." Please. If this phrase ever had any meaning at all it's become obscured in a fog of overuse and irony. To me, the expression stinks of pre-millennial faux-creative pseudo-dynamic dial-up douchitude, cousin to buzzwords like "paradigm" and "proactive."

What does that even mean? What is the box? Is it, as it's probably safe to assume, a matrix of prescriptive boundaries? A set of rules or established guidelines inside which presumably less nimble fingers operate? If so, then really what you are saying, if you are so completely out of fresh ways to express yourself that you direct someone to "think outside the box," is think. Because if you are operating in an effort to be creative or problem-solve in any box, you are not thinking at all, not in the sense implied. You're stacking bricks. Running macros. Applying schema. So. If one needs to exhort someone to be creative or find fresh angles at which to do something, how about we just take it as read that it's not likely to happen within the confines of the box and just say, think. Not that it's likely to help. Thinkers think. Others spout tired cliches. Incidentally, and perhaps interestingly, the situation prompting the hackneyed directive was a search for a rhyme for "vagina."

As long as we're on the subject of language, there is an odd construction that's been on my mind of late. Let me say first that I'm not one to explode or parse or analyze idioms. They give language color and character and it's pointless to comment on their absurdity or lack of actual relation to the subject at hand. If you say (for instance) that you heard something straight from the horse's mouth, I know you haven't been getting your information from an actual horse. You're saying you got the stuff directly from the source (rhymes with horse) without filtration and possible corruption from intermediaries. It's handy, it's folksy, it's direct and it's widely understood, at least by American English speakers. I don't know about other languages or cultures. Aussies perhaps get their info straight from the wombat's mouth, or maybe the wombat's butt. "Poop" is a slangy synonym for information, after all. So is "skinny," oddly enough.

Canadians like to go to the moose for the straight dope. My point is that idiomatic speech enhances our communication and I'm not the type of spoilsport to point out that horses don't actually talk.

The phrase of which I speak seems to be more of a meaningless conversational tic in the manner of "you know what I'm saying" than an idiom, although it operates as a conjunctional phrase and seems — and this is why I find it worthy of note — to immediately contradict itself in light of the clause which follows it. I'm talking about the phrase "not to mention." As in, "you know I've been having a lot of health problems lately. There's a gout, the lumbago, the scrofula, St. Vitus' dance, old joe, carbuncles, and Rocky Mountain Dick Fever, not to mention the creeping fantods and screaming meemies."

Well — wait. You said "not to mention," and then you mentioned. Is this perhaps an elision, the remainder of the expression eroded by time and condensation? As in "not to mention (…) would be remiss." It seems to me that plugging in "plus" or "on top of all that," would function like "not to mention," and makes sense besides.

Maybe I'm missing something here and this is some kind of classic irony that everyone else gets but goes completely over my head. It does seem a little straightforward for effective irony, though, rather like telling someone, "I'm not going to hit you" and then immediately socking them. More confusing and trust-demolishing than funny.

However, I must confess to being a little slow on the uptake sometimes. Do you remember a hit song from the 70s called "If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?" I can perhaps be forgiven for, as a 14-year-old, taking it literally and believing the singer to be asking sincerely if paying the compliment would cause offense. You might think a tad less of me knowing that the pun did not reveal itself to me until about 20 years later.

Ditto with the 2001 Blink-182 album, "Take off your pants and jacket." Only recently was the pun revealed to me. I didn't even figure it out for myself. Happy, America? I've just outed myself as an utter clod.

Anyhoo, please join me in my campaign to eradicate "not to mention" from the public discourse. The next time someone says that, jump on 'em. "Way-way-way-wait. Hold on there, chappie. You said, not to mention, and then you mentioned. You can't have it both ways — kindly reassess and restate your claim."

As you are well aware, there's nothing people love more than unsolicited criticism of their speech patterns. Your Q rating will skyrocket and people will consider their parties woefully incomplete without you.

As long as I'm here I may as well devote a few lines to another curious phenomenon that caught my attention. There is a subspecies of TV watcher whose behavior has got me fairly agog. There are folks, and I do acknowledge that this may be a very specifically localized phenomenon and therefore unknown to the majority of you, who audibly and volubly criticize the behavior and intelligence or lack thereof of sitcom characters. Not the show itself, or the writing, or the concept, but the characters themselves. They will say things like, "Oh my God. How can you be so STUPID? How can you not see that's him under that wig? He didn't even shave his mustache! Are you kidding me? How can you not hear them talking about you? They're not even whispering and they're right there next to you! Dude! That ladder cannot possibly support both you and the bear! Oh, please! You're just making the situation worse with all of your lies! These people are idiots!"

There are people so completely literal minded that they cannot or will not submit themselves to the convoluted and contradictory logic of Sitcom World. Those of us who regularly watch and enjoy such fare have an unspoken contract with the producers and purveyors of the form, to wit: We are aware that you guys ran out of fresh ideas back in 1975 and that's fine. Just plug in two new cute and funny faces every once in a while to act out your tired-ass plots and we'll keep watching. We agree! There's no joke like an old joke. We take comfort in the familiar.

Sitcom World is — different. We know, for instance, that a little white lie, regardless of how innocently told must be defended with elaborate subterfuge and lavish expenditure in Sitcom World.

Let's say that a gentleman tells a young lady in an effort to impress that he is a fabulous cook. She will immediately invite herself and possibly her parents over to his house for a home cooked meal that very night. His feeble, stammering objections will be overcome by her cheerful insistence. Now, he has several options here. He could come clean, admit he can't cook, and offer to take her and her family out to dinner. He could get a cookbook, follow the instructions, and prepare a meal. Or, as this is Sitcom World, he could (and will) enlist his best friend to assist him in concocting a wildly complex scheme involving mechanical apparatus and several ancillary characters in which prepared food is introduced through a window from a roof or a helicopter or catapult and passed off as his own. However, the apparatus will fail, the hapless fibber will end up covered in food, and all will be forgiven and laughed over. This is the way things work in Sitcom World. The plots do not bear up under scrutiny. People do not behave normally. We know this. Just as we know that a simple misunderstanding which could be cleared up with the tee-nineciest bit of effort will not be — will in fact be used as a jumping off point for all manner of hi-jinx.

Such as: A young lady while snooping in her boyfriend's bedroom or coat pockets finds a small velvet covered box of the sort used to store and transport jewelry, specifically rings. Does she contrive an excuse for snooping and ask about the box? Does she even open the box to ascertain its contents? No. She calls her mother to announce her engagement. She tells all her friends, who immediately organize a bachelorette party. During a party which the boyfriend inadvertently stumbles into it is revealed that he uses the box to hold his favorite fishing lure. How embarrassing! But wait! He really does want to marry her! Awwwwwww!

Again, one mustn't apply normal standards of logic to Sitcom World. I don't understand these people, but I do have to live with them.

Well, there you go. I haven't delivered much in the way of substantive material this week, but sometimes you just need to cough up some irritants. Cleanse the old system. Snake the pipes.


  1. Jim Updegraff October 30, 2015

    Say that again.

    • Flynn washburne February 6, 2023

      Say what again, fool?

      • Mark Scaramella February 6, 2023

        Too slow on the uptake, Flynn. Mr. Updegraff can’t repeat himself because he’s been dead for several years.

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