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Some words are a pain in the wazoo

Sunday, March 12, 2000

Today's extended spasm on suspect language is just one in a periodic series, but I feel as though it can't be held back any longer.

I've had it with the term "out the wazoo" and regard its verbal Siamese twin "up the wazoo" with equal contempt. Effectively, the modern language, both spoken and written, has regressed to the point where it has "wazoo" references out the wazoo, if you must.

Even President Clinton, acknowledged as the world's pre-eminent horndog Rhodes Scholar, has visited the wazoo groove in his official speech. Making a point not too long ago about gaping holes in the health care net, Clinton said, "People show up in emergency rooms, and it costs out the wazoo."


It's bad enough when the leader of the free world can float public policy on linguistic deadwood, but when the Post-Gazette's own Tony Norman plays the wazoo card in his immaculate prose, just about all hope for eradication of this tawdry cliche is abandoned.

Mr. Norman, whom I consider the baddest wordslinger in journalism today -- he recently sprayed "glossolalia," "obscurantism" and "perspicacity" into a reasoned review of the new Steely Dan CD -- also has in his background a review in which he said the Blow Pops had "retro cleverness up the wazoo."

I suppose I'll get over it.

Beyond its nauseating proliferation, what's most bothersome about "up/out the wazoo" is that "wazoo" is completely without pedigree in the language. It has no known etymology, at least according to the folks who run the Merriam-Webster Web site. They speculate only that the term came into use in 1983, the circumstances of which are left to the impossible depths of our memory.

Glancing the other day through a volume of major news events of that year, I tried to pick out what could have pointed us down the yellow brick road of wazoodom. Could it have been the retirement of tennis great Bjorn Borg? A misunderstanding at his final press conference?

Borg: "I've had a life in tennis like very few."

First writer (to colleague): "What did he say?"

Colleague: "He said, 'My life's been tennis out the wazoo.' "

Perhaps, but I have this nagging suspicion that it all goes back to the appearance of ex-President Gerald Ford on "Dynasty." I didn't say I had an explanation, just a nagging suspicion.

The Merriam-Webster site gamely identifies "wazoo" as a noun that is slang for anus, and quotes the eminent TV series creator Steven Bochco for its online example: "We've got lawyers up the wazoo."

This provides at least a starting point for differentiating "up the wazoo" from "out the wazoo." "Up the wazoo" in this example clearly denotes an uncomfortable oversupply. No one wants lawyers, especially lawyers, up the wazoo. "Out the wazoo," by reasonable extrapolation, would imply an uncomfortable situation that has been, uh, relieved. Alas, no such consistency is fulfilled in the following real-life examples, but their imagery is somehow worth considering.

From a movie review ("Sleepless in Seattle"): "Wistful disappointments up the wazoo."

From a politics update in the Toronto Star: "Kyle Rae, who has already got coffee klatches lined up out the wazoo."

From a preview of New York's Millennium celebration: "New York has pyrotechnics up the wazoo."

From a report about a new BMW model: "It's a BMW, for starters, which means it's got cachet up the wazoo." Cachet? Up the . . . c'mon.

From a Tufts University scientist explaining the difficulty of eradicating cryptosporidium from drinking water: "You can chlorinate up the wazoo, but it won't do anything against crypto."

And my personal favorite. From an Anchorage wildlife biologist: "We've got nuisance beavers up the wazoo!" Oh, that'll hurt.

Finally, God bless the folks who are just too busy to even get the cliches straight. Like fired Dallas Cowboys coach Chan Gailey: "We've had second chances out the Gazoo." Gazoo? The Great Gazoo?

And Mike Rosenberg, agent for disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, who said, "I've had calls for interviews up the kazoom." Wherever that is.

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