Friday, December 18, 2009

To Salahi or Not to Salahi . . .

The White House gate-crashers have unwittingly bestowed a gift to the language in the form of a richly functional verb.

If, as I do, you live within John Nance Garner "spitting" distance of Washington and you read its fast-disappearing newspapers, then for the last week or two you have been drowned in a Salahi marinade. For those who may have been on vacation on another planet, or are reading this after it has been extracted from a time capsule—what with the American attention span being what it is, time capsules are now retrieved 45 minutes after they are buried—the Salahis are two strange pinheads, one of whom looks like Barbie and the other Fat Ken, who harbor the noble ambition of appearing on a "reality show."
For those who do not know what a reality show is, it is a chance to achieve utterly transient fame by acting like an idiot and embarrassing oneself in front of a charge-coupled device that communicates your indiscretions to the less intelligent population of an entire nation. The Salahis are themselves a charged couple, and perhaps a device, in more ways than one: She looks like she's part neon, and they have begun their encounters with the system of what used to be called justice. To get on the reality show, which, appropriately, does not even exist, they faked their way into the White House, Tareq Salahi, it is presumed, wearing his fake Patek Philippe.
The president and Mrs. Obama are reportedly outraged. Strangely enough, Theodore Roosevelt, who was shot while making a speech, and finished it, was not reported to have been outraged. When Puerto Rican nationalist terrorists attacked Blair House, with three wounded, two dead, and at one point only a machine-gun on the stairs between Harry Truman and assassination, the president was not reported to have been outraged. And when Ronald Reagan, bullet near his heart, was wheeled into the emergency room at George Washington University, he was most likely not outraged—because had he been he likely would not have had the wit to say to his surgeons before he was put under, "I hope you're all Republicans." Apparently, outrage, like attention span and a good deal else, has devolved with American history.
Associated Press
Michaele and Tareq Salahi at the White House.
There may, however, be a Salahi lining in all this pitiable behavior; i.e. a gift to the language in the form of a richly functional verb—to Salahi. We have the Ponzi Scheme, named after the first known originator; Hobson's Choice, named after a livery stable owner who is reported to have said "You can take any horse you want as long as it's the one by the door;" and Melba Toast and Peach Melba, in honor of late 19th- and early 20th-century diet-averse opera star Nellie Melba, who all by herself could have equaled at least three or four of our early 21st-century fashion models (if she could have been convinced to adopt the facial expression of a heroin-addicted captive in a Russian Mafia bordello). Why not to Salahi?
I would like to offer the following to the Oxford English Dictionary, free of charge:
To Salahi: v. U.S. [after 21st century reality-show aspirants Michaele and Tareq Salahi] 1. intrans. to gain entrance to an event or gathering to which one is not invited. "They Salahied into the Bar-Mitzvah even though they didn't know the Goldblatt boy, and ate most of the chopped-liver sculpture of Elvis." Shakespeare, Sonnet MMIX. 2. in a general sense to appear where one is not welcome. "Michael Moore Salahied into George and Laura Bush's second honeymoon to lecture the former president about justice for the undocumented immigrants held at Guantanamo." Chomsky, Profiles in Courage. 3. to forge, fake or pretend, especially in hope of achieving a contemptible or pathetic objective that is simultaneously a comment upon the corruption and distastefulness of a particular individual and society itself. trans. "To elevate his chances of becoming a Chippendales dancer, Arnold Toynbee Salahied a letter of recommendation from Rosa Luxemburg. Al Franken, An Intellectual History of the United States.
If, for example, you sneak into the circus, you cannot be said to have Salahied, because the action is too honorable and direct. It must be accompanied by convoluted and narcissistic scheming that is bound to unravel because of its elemental stupidity. Another use of the expression would be simply to turn it into a noun: "She looks like a Salahi," "They're just Salahis," "It was one of the greatest Salahis ever," or "It takes a Salahi to know a Salahi." And, although not finally, as the speakers of English are a creative lot and may find many fascinating variations, the very notion of Salahi-ing could be lifted to an eye-crossing level were one to speak of "ersatz Salahis," a true puzzle for philosophers, or at least a double negative.
Meanwhile, the Salahis themselves are to be thanked for enriching the language, even if unwittingly (and that's an understatement).
Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, is the author of, among other works, "Winter's Tale" (Harcourt), "A Soldier of the Great War" (Harcourt) and, most recently, "Digital Barbarism" (HarperCollins).


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