Tag Archives: Sen. Jesse Helms

100 proof pure poison

It doesn’t matter how often or how extensively we clean our house. We still uncover the oddest things and collections of things under the layers of dust that have been accumulating for 20 years.

Oh, the things we find in bags, bowls, bins, buckets and baskets.

Yesterday, I dared to peek into an old brass bin on a shelf above the basement stairs. Most of the contents were minute—paper clips, safety pins, tiny pieces of broken toys, a few rusty screws and a small paperback book entitled Jesse Helms “quoted”: 100 Proof Pure Old Jess.

I’m glad I have the opportunity to clean out my things before strangers come in to organize a sale of my so-called estate. This find would be hard to explain.

The source of this relic is a little fuzzy to me; It must have been a gag gift from someone who knew that neither my husband nor I was ever a big supporter of the late North Carolina senator. Quite possibly, it was a re-gift. No matter.

I looked the book up online to see if I could get a little background. I found only a used book site, where several owners were selling their copies. The site did tell me that, if I liked this book, I might also like 2000 Foreign Policy Overview and the President’s Fiscal Year 2001 Foreign Affairs Budget Request: Congress hearing. I think I’ll pass. Maybe I’ll wait for the movie.

For some reason, I expected to find humor in the 67 pages of the book that contain direct quotes from Sen. Helms, who lived from 1921 to 2008. If anyone who lived only during the last two decades of Helms’ life gazed upon these quotes, they’d be shocked—barely more than I was, though—to realize that such flagrant bigotry was expressed so freely and publicly in the late 20th century and into the 21st.

The last section of the book is devoted to political cartoons about the man, but these provided little relief for my sour stomach.

There was only one quote I found worthy to excerpt in this blog; it’s the first one printed in the book:

“Well there are a lot of number one problems in America. But let me boil it down to two…”

Don’t make me share the rest.


Filed under Hearth and Home, Politics, Reading

Absolute adjectives confound absolutely

Someone recently took me up on my Red Pen Invitation, which encourages readers to point out my mistakes if they choose. By the way, she wasn’t the first.

Commenting on last Friday’s post about first jobs, the reader questioned my use of “very first,” suggesting the phrase was redundant. She was right to challenge me. There can be only one first.

After giving this some thought, I concluded that my error wasn’t necessarily one of redundancy. Redundancy occurs when both words mean the same thing, e.g., “sum total.” Rather, I was guilty of  inappropriately modifying an absolute adjective.

I should have known better. After all, I’m the first to preach about “very unique.” Something is unique or it isn’t. There’s no “very” about it. 

An absolute adjective cannot be intensified or compared. It can’t be more. It can’t be less. It can’t be very or extremely or somewhat or a little. It just is.

The problem is that there doesn’t appear to be an authoritative list of absolute adjectives, at least that I can find. Maybe it’s an abstract better left as the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart characterized obscenity (and the late Sen. Jesse Helms said about pornography), “I know it when I see it.” 

The obvious ones are: unique, pregnant, perfect, true and, of course, dead. Which won’t keep me from singing the famed lyrics of the Wizard of Oz when, upon the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West, the Munchkin coroner pronounces her “not only merely dead. She’s really, most sincerely dead.”

How well do you know your absolute adjectives? Take this quiz and find out. After you have finished that, maybe you can help me find an absolute list of absolute adjectives. Maybe it doesn’t exist.

Perhaps Theodore M. Bernstein was onto something when he wrote in Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears, and Outmoded Rules of English Usage, “If one wishes to niggle, almost any adjective can be regarded as an absolute. But common sense tells us to avoid any such binding position.”

All niggling aside, I will add “first” to my list of absolutes.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, Politics, Reading