By Kit-Bacon Gressitt / Excuse Me, I’m Writing / June 12, 2011
“Hey, dude, that’s wack!”
I learned that handy little colloquialism during my first semester at Cal State San Marcos. “Wack,” according to the fellow who uttered it (a comely young man who was conscripted into a women’s studies class), is an adjective indicating that something is not right. After doing a little etymological digging, I found that “wack” is a variant of “whack,” which means “crazy” and is commonly used in conjunction with “job,” as in:
“That guy is a wha—.”
“That guy over there by the thing. He’s a—.”
“Where’s there? What thing? What guy?”
“Over there, there! The guy by the thing over there! That guy!”
“You’re a whack job.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, that’s wack!”
Language is so interesting. And sometimes surprising.
Just last week, while following a ”Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker along Fallbrook Street, I had a moment of surprisal. (Yes, it is a real word, but the OED considers it rare or obsolete, just like the hand-stitched white formal gloves languishing in the back of my sports bra drawer or the—. Never mind.)
Now, I had always thought “pro-life” meant just that, as in “for life,” “in support of life.” You know, “life-positive” — kind of like “sex-positive,” another term I learned in school, meaning human sexuality is something to be explored, expressed and celebrated. Apparently, we have to be taught that — quelle domage! Except in this particular context, maybe sex is a rather dicey reference. Do you suppose pro-lifers even have sex? Well, of course they do: Someone is producing those cute little kiddos who hold the mangled fetus posters outside health clinics. But if pro-lifers have sex, they inevitably have unintended pregnancies, and then what do they do?
Oh, yes, right. They do pretty much what other women do. They either have babies or abortions, as in one in five abortion patients self-identifies as born-again, evangelical, charismatic or fundamentalist Christian.
I guess they go to the clinics that aren’t on the picket list that day. Maybe we should picket them, but in a warm and welcoming way. My sign could say, “We proudly serve pro-lifers.”
But where was I? Ah, yes, my moment of surprisal and the meaning of “pro-life.”
The question arose when I was stopped at a traffic light behind a Christian school van bearing the “Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker. An older woman of ethnic descent, noticeably mobility impaired and apparently of low economic status (only the poor don’t have cars in Southern California, right?), began to jaywalk her hobbled way across the street with a heavy load of groceries in her arms — just as the light changed to green.
Lo and behold, the van driver revved the engine and nosed toward the woman, who, to my surprisal (that would be a misuse of an obsoletism — yep, that’s a real word but also rare), proved she could limp a whole lot faster than I would have thought possible had I not seen it.
I guess the person driving the Christian school van that bore the “Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker cares only about the lives of babies, not those of old hobbled women. Or maybe the driver was actually a bit more anti-jaywalking than pro-life, and consequently felt compelled to frighten the bejesus out of the errant pedestrian. Or maybe the driver was only partially life-positive but staunchly sex-positive, and was a little over-eager to beat a path home to explore, express and celebrate that latter positivity. Or, dare we imagine, maybe it was the old gal’s ethnicity or gender or age or apparent economic status that gave the driver the heavy accelerator foot.
Certainly, it would be easy to attribute the driver’s action to simple impatience; easy, but rank with disrespect and disregard for the target of the impatient assault. And one of the things I learned well before returning to school is that even the most simple acts we lightly perform on others can be heavy with complex motivations.
Whatever the reason, that driver was wack!