Saturday, June 15, 2019

"Gootchie-gootchie goo."

Madam Roulin and her Baby, by Vincent Van Gogh
Metropolitan Museum of Art
     There are more ways to screw up a newspaper story than you can shake a stick at.
     Checking one thing, you overlook something else.  Confident in one scrap of information, you don't check it, but it's nevertheless wrong, your certainty be damned. Stick your finger in one leak and water pours out another. Tread softly where you ought to stamp hard, push hard against something you ought merely caress. Use a word that means one thing, to you and readers seize on a different meaning and, waving it over their heads, assign you a string of imagined malign motives to go with it. You mean to check a fact, but forget to do so, or do check and still somehow manage to get it wrong. 
     I would never be so bold, for instance, to put communications expert Abdon Pallasch's name in the paper without checking the spelling, even though I've known him for 20 years. since he was a colleague at the paper.
      So last week, using his name, I checked it, again, noted how it was spelled, again, and promptly dropped the "c."
      He was very civil about it. I leapt to correct the misspelling, reader sneers about "Medill Fs" fluttering in the back of my mind like luna moths around a porch light, brushing them away by taking comfort in the fact that I didn't neglect to check it. I just failed to stick the landing.
      I checked it again, just now, to be sure. It's right. Abdon M. Pallasch.
      I hope.
      The same week, I wrote something about encountering a pregnant friend, whom I described as "big as a house," which, in my male eyes, was a synonymous for "very pregnant," which she was, given that she gave birth three days later.
     Turns out "big is a house" is, if not quite an insult or the language of hate, is some species of body shaming. Readers complained, and sprang to her defense on Facebook.
     Ouch. I was trying to be nice. If I thought it wasn't nice, I wouldn't have said it. I apologized to her.  She was very civil about it.
Alexys Fleming
     Then there was something that never got in the paper that was almost scary, like a speeding CTA bus brushing past my cheek. 
     In the same column describing the birth, I mentioned the most influential online presence in Chicago, a 26-year-old make-up artist named Alexys Fleming. I described her as "an almond-eyed beauty" because, well, look at her.
      It seemed a dry, neutral, journalistic description of reality as set before me. It seems "almond-eyed," I was told by a concerned editor, is a slur against Asians, Which I didn't think was relevant here, since she isn't, or doesn't seem to be, Asian. But such niceties are meaningless in the free-fire zone of social media. Unfamiliarity with the catalogue of offense and purity of heart are no defense, I thanked the editor and took the offending words out, along with "beauty" while I was at it, since, upon reflection, males commenting upon the attractiveness of females, particularly those half their age, is no doubt an invitation to objection as well. Why hand somebody a mallet and lower my head unnecessarily?
    Then in Friday's column, I quoted myself saying "Gootchie-gootchie goo" while poking a silicon fetus doll. It was an accurate transliteration of what I uttered. Transliteration can't really be wrong. "Hanukkah," "Hanukah," "Chanukah," and the dozen other variants are all stabs at חנוכה.
     But was what I said proper? It never occurred to me to ask. But it occurred to others.
     Reader Jim Lanham writes, in a form almost amounting to a poem:
Isnt it coochie coochie coo? Never (unless im crazy)heard it as gootchie? Source? This could be an interesting story in itself
     Sighing, I contemplated my reference library. There was a Betty Boop, 1920s, makin' whoopee tone to "coochie coo," so I started with my Oxford 20th Century Words. 
    Bingo, first try:
     cooch n (1910) a type of erotic dance. US slang. A shortening of hootchy-kootchy (1898) in the same sense, who origins are obscure. Also used as a verb.
      Which would endorse "coochie coo." Looking for anything close to "gootchie," I found "goo-goo eyes," defined as "amorous glances," which makes matters even worse. And people think of etymology as a victimless crime. Trying to find the derivation of the baby babble uttered spontaneously brought a creepy vibe to innocent teasing of ersatz babies. 
     The "t" seems idiosyncratic to me, a rare variant: online, it's usually "goochie-goo" though there is a flyspeck town of Gootchie in Australia, or was. I couldn't find any current references to such a place.
     It gets worse.  As I thought about "gootchie goo," I began to suspect it might have a shade of mock Indian — whoops, Native-American — speech, along the lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's once-famous  poem "Hiawatha": "On the shores of Gitche Gumee/Of the shining Big-Sea-Water..."
    So shades of inappropriate eroticism AND bigotry. Just lovely. I'm lucky to have survived last week with my job intact. It's amazing one is able to write at all, and while my career doesn't seem to be blowing up over "gootchie goo," it's only a matter of time. Ignorance of the law is no defense.


  1. I'm assuming the point of blogging about how to use make-up is to make a woman look as attractive as possible? So why is it insulting to actually notice that's she's pretty? Almond-eyed is an ethnic slur? I have a beautiful almond-eyed cat. Is that okay to say? I'm using an Asian ethnic slur to describe a cat? What if he was a Siamese cat; would it be okay then?

    I guess we all have to stop using adjectives in describing people (and cats, I guess) because you're sure to offend somebody.

    This is getting ridiculous.

  2. "Ah ne'er so dire a thirst of Glory boast.
    Nor in the critic let the man be lost!
    Good nature and good sense must ever join;
    To err is human; to Forgive Devine." Alexander Pope, "Essay on Criticism"


  3. To confirm that there's nothing new under the sun, one should read Proust's description of one of Madame Verdurin's Wednesdays during which the etymologies of various French locations and the genealogies of various noble families are offered, disputed, disdained, and refuted. Delicious if one likes long spicy meals.


  4. Stick with "Gootchie" . Cooch or Kootch or any spelling that sounds like it is sometimes used to define the part of a woman politely referred to as the "V" word. Not sure if that gets me on the wrong side of someone's sensibility but I am definitely sure that I don't care.

  5. Social media can indeed be a free-fire zone. I've experienced it myself, after posting a comment or question, only to be scolded for some unintended offense.
    I empathize with writers who have to deal with this on a daily basis.

    I always thought it was "coochie coochie coo", but either one is perfectly
    okay with me :)

  6. I like the way this piece evolved with related but dissimilar topics tied nicely together and not losing the thread. Like Paul Klee's description of his painting technique: "taking a line out for a walk."


  7. Well, if almond-eyed is now some sort of ethnic slur toward those of the Asian persuasion, you can always fall back on the tried and true "sloe-eyed"--which Merriam-Webster defines as: 1) "having attractive, soft, dark, typically almond-shaped eyes" ("a dark-haired and sloe-eyed beauty"), and 2) "having slanted eyes."

    On second thought, maybe not. There's that problematic second definition, and it's also too close to "slope-eyed", from which probably came the s-word used all-too-frequently during the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts.

    I fail to understand why Miss Fleming has all those zillions of so-called "followers"...I mean, yeah, she does have those lovely bluish-purple eyes, but she's not somebody I would describe as unusually pretty. Once again, maybe that's just me...I'm old, so what the hell do I know? Not so much, apparently. I once described Paula Deen as 'foxy' online, and caught all kinds of hell.

  8. I am at a point in my life where I'm OK with reading over typos and letting unintended slights slip by. Your positive regard toward your pregnant friend (I think at the Shakespeare theater?) was evident, and my reaction to your words was - to laugh. One, because you AREN'T supposed to say such things, but you did, and clearly (at least to me) you COULD, because of the friendship between you two. The second reason I laughed was I had an image of Woody Allen sitting in the theater, describing a spider and saying, "it was a big as a BUICK!". (I don't remember what movie that's from, but it was funny at the time, and difficult for me to claim the line is NOT funny now, just because my opinion of W. Allen has changed).


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