When one scribbles for a living, one receives the most astounding correspondence. To wit, from one E. J. Epp of Kenora, Ont.:
“Dear Fotheringham. Re: Maclean’s magazine dated Dec. 16, 1991, and Aug. 24, 1992: Please cease using the expression Tractor Hat. It doesn’t exist. Its [sic] not in the dictionary as stated in the attached letter from Webster’s New World. This is a follow up to my letters of Feb. 10 and Sept. 1, 1992.”
The attached letter, from one Michael Agnes, Senior Editor, Publishing Co-ordinator of Webster’s New World, Simon & Schuster Consumer Group, 850 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, Ohio, reads:
“Dear Prof. Epp: Thank you for your letter with the inquiry regarding the noun phrase ‘tractor hat.’ Our files yield a single citation for the expression (1983). Even with the two occurrences you mention from the magazine Maclean’s, we lack reliable evidence that the expression is sufficiently widely used to warrant inclusion in the dictionary at this time. I can only speculate that a tractor hat is a baseball cap with some sort of company logo on it, for example, ‘CAT’ (for Caterpillar Tractors). Such caps are perhaps more widely known as ‘gimme caps.’ I have also heard them referred to as ‘seed caps’ (from an informant in Northern Florida.) Thank you for your interest.” Now, the scribbler is always happy—and most appreciative—when loyal and/or enraged readers tell him how to write. One is intrigued, however, over the fact that the E. J. Epp of downtown Kenora identifies himself to Webster’s New World as a professor, but not to the scribbler.
Does he not think the proprietor of this page is worthy of academic intimidation? I have been intimidated by some of the best pointy-headed academics in the land, from P. Trudeau on down. If someone is going to insult and instruct me, I want to know that he has at least a PhD behind his name. More important still is the suggestion—re tractor hats—that no such phrase exists and thereafter, perforce, should never appear in this space in case it frightens
both the horses and the little children in the streets.
Next thing you hear, someone will be saying that there cannot—the English language and logic being what it is—possibly be a political party calling itself the Progressive Conservatives. Surely this is an oxymoron in itself— somewhat like “military intelligence” or “jumbo shrimps” or “airplane food” or “investigative reporters.”
If you let this sort of stuff go on, soon you’ll be claiming that Pierre Trudeau, who says he wants to keep Canada together because he loves Quebec, in fact is not voting No along with Presto! Manning who claims he’s voting No because Quebec does not deserve to exist.
If you go along with the newly annointed Prof. Epp (I didn’t know they had a university in Kenora), there will be edicts that no one should mention that the Prime Minister of the country—who is so unpopular that he was supposed
to keep his mouth shut during the referendum campaign—sends the dollar into the Dumpster every time he opens his Irish yap.
You start believing this stuff, and pretty soon you think bank chairmen who go on platforms to threaten ordinary intelligent Canadians on why they should vote actually know what they are doing.
There are a lot of dangers in this world to those who will not abide the instructions from those who would instruct. Churchill, to his eternal discredit, did not listen to those masters who told him he was a failure because he could not figure out math and was a flop at school. Einstein never listened to those who harangued him at Princeton because he never wore socks. There are so many examples of those who simply would not take advice from their superiors. Harry Truman, told by his pollsters that he had no chance of beating Tom Dewey, went out and did it, triumphantly holding over his head on election night the famous Chicago Daily Tribune headline: “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” Told that the defiant Gen. Douglas MacArthur was the most popular man in America, Truman sacked him and proved that old soldiers just fade away.
The Wright Brothers, despite Icarus, told that man wasn’t destined to fly, ignorantly pushed on. They probably did not have the benefit of advice from university professors who knew what was right.
There are so many taboos in this land that are not obeyed. It is a disgrace. Ontario’s NDP government, informed that it was elected with only 38 per cent of the vote, proceeds along as if it is still the government. The premiers of the land, told by the unwashed that Meech Lake was incomprehensible, proceed onward with Son of a Meech that is equally fuzzifying— a word, apparently, not found in Webster’s New World dictionary on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.
The problem with some people, including some people in Kenora, is that they think rules exist. In language. In conduct. In politics. In life. If rules existed, 10 pump-priming satraps masquerading as provincial premiers would think of the country first. They don’t, they think of themselves as blow-dried rulers o. fiefdoms.
If immutable rules existed, women with hips that do not quit would not wear slacks on public streets and men would not smoke cigars in crowded places. It is a really tough new world, in an atmosphere now ruled by political correctness, where you are told you cannot use 2 word, or a phrase.
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