Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sequester In Other Words

On the February 17th Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer suggested that we find another word for “sequester,” the mandatory cuts to the federal budget that are set to go into effect the first of March. He recalled that President Carter was once told he shouldn’t use the word “inflation,” to which he supposedly replied: “OK. I’ll just call it a banana.” (The banana has alternately been credited to Carter’s “inflation czar,” Alfred Kahn, as an alternative to “depression.”)

I took Schieffer up on his suggestion and I’ve been exploring some other terms for “sequester.” First I needed to determine what that word really means. Microsoft Word’s reference tool provided some interesting information, along with quite a few alternatives.

The dictionary options were enlightening. I immediately ruled out the first: put somebody into isolation. The second probably best describes the original intent of the sequester: take property to cover obligation. But the third was the eye opener: take enemy’s property.

“Aha!” said I. “I think I’m on to something here.” If this election taught us nothing else, it was that many Democrats and Republicans perceive one another as the enemy. It was no doubt with that in mind that the notion of the sequester came into being in the first place. This did not immediately send a replacement term hurtling into my cerebral cortex, but I filed the notion away for reference later in this process.

In political terms, most of the alternatives proposed by the thesaurus sound even worse than the word “sequester” itself. Take for instance “confiscate.” That’s pretty much what Congress will be doing with the money that’s automatically cut from all the federal budget items. “Impound” doesn’t sound much better. It conjures up cars abandoned on city streets and towed off to some fenced in, godforsaken lot that no proper cab driver would take you to.

The variations on “isolate” (a secondary meaning per the thesaurus) seemed more palatable at first. But scrolling down, I found “quarantine,” and that made me itch. I drilled down on “separate,” hoping for something useful. That turned up “ghettoize.” Not a word any politician would choose instead of “sequester,” and perhaps a tad too close to the truth.

It was clear that the thesaurus would be no help to me in this quest for a euphemism for “sequester.” I’d have to go rogue on this one. I can hear my loyal followers raising a cheer at this prospect, thinking: “Elaine going rogue is bound to be more entertaining than Elaine plowing through a thesaurus.”

I shifted my focus from left brain to right brain. No longer would I proceed in terms of words, but rather in terms of images. First I pictured the members of the various budget committees with brooms in hand, sweeping the outlying crumbs of department allocations into neat little piles. Piles that could either be picked up and disposed of, or set aside in a corner, just in case there came a reprieve and they could be spread around again later in the fiscal year. This led me to “Swiffer” as my first alternative.

Next I envisioned functionaries with green eyeshades and electric pencil sharpeners, poring over pages of expenses, ticking off the ones they felt were discretionary. This conjured up the image of Scrooge’s beleaguered clerk, which provided the option “cratchit,” or “cratchitize.” I’m not sure that’s an improvement over sequester, but at least it’s more colorful.

Back to the notion of taking the enemy’s property, I zeroed in on "spoils of war." I Googled this phrase and uncovered a website that gives English first names with that meaning. The very idea was so bizarre that I was compelled to visit to learn what those names are. Turns out there are just four of them, and two of those are variations of the others. What caught my eye was "Edelina," which just happens to be an anagram of my first name and the first initial of my last name.

This discovery was beyond strange; it was a karmic sign. I became enamored with the idea of replacing “sequester” with an anagram of my own name. From now on, I shall use “edelina” whenever I refer to the sequester. I’ll sound positively erudite as I discuss political euphemisms and nuances of speech. I might even be invited to appear on Face the Nation.

In the meantime, I’m going to open a nice bottle of vino and savor my propitious discovery. Because sure as God made green apples, Congress will pass another continuing resolution, and the risk of an edelina will be put off another six months, removing it from talk show topics and my name from the shows' guest lists.

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