The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Judith Nakken

Copyright 2019 by Judith Nakken

Photo of a page from a dictionary.

I was unhappy with the change in discounts for seniors, and initially polite as I could be at the Customer Disservice counter. “These new rebates are really niggardly,” I said, and didn’t continue because of the look of shock rapidly turning to hatred on her Caucasian face. “Oh, wait,” I tried to explain since I know too well that today’s under-40’s have little knowledge of the English language. “That has no relation to the ugly n-word. It’s a perfectly good English word……” I trailed off, because she was now swiveling her head, obviously searching for help, probably from Security, and still without a word. Realizing she was never going to speak with me, I took the last word. “It means ‘cheap-assed,’” I vulgarized, and promptly retreated from my place at the front of the line, vowing to myself not to not ever again use that good word in “polite” conversation, and praying to never again have to approach this counter.

I asked the student frosting my hair why she lifted the hairs up instead of letting them lie flat underneath the dye solution. “It’s to oxy…oxygen…..oh, that word, you know…” she stammered. “To have it make contact with the air.”

Oh, oxygenate,” I offered. There was a giggle from a neighboring student.

Oxidize,” that young girl corrected her elder.

Oxygenate is a perfectly good English word for this action,” I noted and didn’t even suggest that ‘oxidize’ was usually used to describe the process of rusting metal.

Then I sent the train off the rails. Reminded of the scene at the Customer Service desk and with the preamble “Lots of fine English words can’t be used any more…,” I told my young hairdresser the ‘niggardly’ story, forgetting my vow to never speak the word again. I had speechified past other decent words that we shouldn’t use now .. fag was a cigarette .. faggot was a piece of kindling ... and started to tell about the love song my mama wrote, entitled “Be Gay,” when I noticed that my girl and her neighbor had disappeared. Moments later, an instructor came to tell me that two students were uncomfortable with my language, and that “we can’t have that kind of language here.” My defense/explanation did not prevail. I gave up and made my apologies to the less-literate-than-I. My sweet young hairdresser forgave me. Sweetly.

In the days when the black and white television sets were the focal point of suburban living rooms, the daddies and mommies slept in twin beds. Heterosexual kisses were chaste, Dorothy Parker’s chapter after that kiss was followed by a string of asterisks, and niggardly meant grasping, miserly. Today, television stations routinely run programs depicting gratuitous sex acts in king sized beds, bathrooms and Central Park, not yet quite exposing genitals but who knows what tomorrow’s times will bring?

I saw John Wayne and his child Cowboys again, on TV the other night. Since I last saw it, the PC Police have bleeped the n-word from the cute bunkhouse scene. Yet, every other PG13 movie showing is full of God-damns and Jesus Christs .. using the deity of Christians as a scatological term (Oh, my! I supposed someone is affronted by “scat”?) with never a bleep to be heard.

I am appalled by it all.

Yes, the times they are a’changin’….. sliding down a slippery slope. I’m glad I’m far past my three-score and ten, an anachronism with a firm grasp on the real but bloody and bowed English language. I won’t be here to see it vanquished.

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