Word of the Year for 2003

One of the delights of the English language, other than the fact that our term ‘jet plane’ is shorter than the German word ‘Düsenflugzeug’, is that there is a word for everything. It’s not having a word for everything that has led to the frankly embarrassing tendency to compound words in German, such as ‘Oberammergaueralpenkräuterdelikatessenfrühstückskäse’ which means, as far as my miserable German goes (he really is miserable, always moping about) ‘fancy Alpen herbal breakfast cheese from Oberammergau’. If you’ve ever been to Oberarmmergau to see the passion play, you know the cheese is fair, but not worth coming up with a clanger like Oberammergaueralpenkräuterdelikatessenfrühstückskäse. I think they are desperate for attention. An infinite number of monkeys might eventually write the works of Shakespeare, but not in German. Speaking of which, one of the monkeys that does my typesetting just informed me I’ve drifted off-topic. What I mean to say is that although the year 2003 was a poor one by anybody’s standards, the English-speaking world is fortunate to have a word that describes it. The word for the year 2003, ladies and others, is ‘clusterfuck’. I leave it to you to embellish to taste, appending ‘complete and utter’ or ‘unmitigated’, for example.

It’s a succinct, crisp word, a compound word it is true, but of the short, robust English type, not one of these bloodless attenuated things the Northern Europeans go in for. The first half is from the Old Teutonic ‘kluttro’, meaning ‘clump’, and the second word’s derivation is much contested by dirty-minded etymologists although I happen to know, due to some rare 9c. illustrated manuscripts in my collection, that it comes from the Middle English ‘fkye’, to fidget restlessly or flirt, from the Old German ‘fyken’, to make swift movements back and forth, rub, or flick (which shows they were thinking about technique, even then). Linguists will experience a shiver of delight at my use of the word ‘swift’, above, which is related to ‘swive’, another word for fukka (old Swedish slang for copulation). The compound word of which I speak is not nearly so old and venerable as its component parts, having first been identified in common use in 1969 (make of that what you will). It is a military term invented especially to describe the first Vietnam war. It means ‘a bungled or confused undertaking’. There’s been much undertaking of late. Say it with me people: 2003 was a clusterfuck.

My more conservative readers will both point out that the economy turned around in 2003, so as years go it wasn’t a dead loss, like the years 1234 or 1721. This is a spurious argument. The economy, like a freight train from which the engine has separated on an uphill grade, is accelerating rapidly for the guys up front, while the rest of us are going backwards. Not to mention we’re all crammed in boxcars. It’s a great economy if you are already worth tens of millions of dollars. For the vast majority of us who are part of that 120% spending-to-income ratio, the economy is not so good. There was a joke in the Clinton years: “this president has created many new jobs. I know, because I have three of them just to make ends meet.” It wasn’t funny then, and its current variation is even less amusing: “this president has lost more jobs than anyone since Hoover. I know, because I am a white-collar worker without employment for sixteen months.” Maybe it’s funnier in German. I’m sure they have a great compound word for ‘catastrophic erosion of quality of life’.

But let’s not dwell on dollars. Nobody else is; the dollar lost gobs of its value against the Euro in 2003. Even the zloty is starting to look robust. Instead let’s look at the War on Terrorism, as it is known, although I prefer the term ‘Total War All the Time’, or ‘TWAT’ for short. Terrorism is threats or violence by unofficial entities used to intimidate larger societies and governments. Who has perpetrated the most terrorism in 2003? Golly, I hardly dast say. Al-Qaeda was fairly quiet. The Israeli government kept it local, as did the Palestinians. Could it be the Executive Branch of the U.S. government? They invaded Iraq and continue to occupy it by means of intimidation. The Iraqi insurgents aren’t terrorists, despite their tactics- we did the same thing during the American Revolution. Our White House pulverized the United Nations. It pimp-slapped most of Western Europe. And this same small group of unelected zealots holds the entire American people in a thrall of fear using color-coded threats, speculation on the theme of disaster that would make the most committed paranoid zenophobe shake his head in disbelief, and for good measure the occasional whisking-away of some troublemaker or other.

The American saber has been rattled with such vigor against enemies ranging from Syria to North Korea that the pommel has come loose. En garde. Terrorism on this scale is more often called ‘belligerent foreign policy’, especially as it’s officially sanctioned by the U.S. government, but seeing as the U.S. government at this point isn’t officially sanctioned by most of the American people, I’m only willing to split hairs just so far. These screwheads are willing to split hairs all the way down to the cerebral cortex. Add to this the more commonly accepted version of terrorist: rag-headed crazies making bombs out of chewing gum and twine-and you have an unpalatable collation indeed. Because while the RNC is inventing threats and menaces to keep us all cowering in the woodshed, real actual genuine authentic terrorists are gathering in record numbers, spurred on by the goad of violent American adventurism in their homelands or adjacent areas. They have plans of their own, and our peri-urban chemical plants, nuclear power facilities, and Wal-Marts are so utterly undefended that a motivated boy scout wielding a two-pound rock could bring the entire American homeland to its knees. Although this would probably be the position he found it in.

The environment and its threadbare peignoir of protections have joined the pantheon of lost causes, alongside the Passenger Pigeon, opera spats, and lard hog futures (O noble Curly Mangalitza, wither hast thou gone?) National lands are bent double and spread wide to accommodate the thrusting spam-javelins of corporate desire. Power giants are on the kind of polluting spree normally associated with Biblical plagues, and I daresay we’ll be nostalgic for the days when acid rain and smog were the only drawbacks to cheap industrial energy. Lordy, my bottom aches just thinking about it. We could talk about human rights and the Constitution, too, but I don’t want to pick at fresh scabs. Do you want to discuss President George W. Sitzpinkler’s bogus adventure? I don’t. We could go on about the usurpation of the voting system by right-wing activist elements, but then we’d have to talk about the new year, 2004, and I can’t bear it yet. Give me a week to get over 2003.

It’s not all bad news, of course. The Democrats are finally fighting to the death. Too bad it’s with each other. Maybe that’s not good news. Rupert Murdock now own half of all media. I guess that’s good news, if you like Rupert Murdoch. Ebola killed pretty much all the gorillas. That’s kind of mixed news, but it means at last we can put some good hotels in the remote mountains of Rwanda. Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban, so at least they have a government again. 2003 saw quite a few of our troops come home. Unfortunately they were either extinct or missing important bits. The ones who remain intact will be over there until the end of the millennium. Gosh, none of this stuff sounds all that great now I write it down. It must be time to end this piece.

There is a second description that applies to 2003 (I choose not to include the variant ‘Mongolian Clusterfuck’, it being a mere extension of the basic theme). It’s not a word, but a statement. Ask me on December 30 of 2004 what the year 2003 was like. I will lay down my cane and oxygen tank, take a wheezing breath, and snarl, “It was better than this year!” then pitch forward onto my face, a lifeless scarecrow. If I’m lucky.

BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter and cartoonist. Ben also has a lot of outrageously priced crap for sale here. If his writing starts to grate on your nerves, buy some and maybe he’ll flee to Mexico. If all else fails, he can be reached at: credel@earthlink.net


Ben Tripp is America’s leading pseudo-intellectual. His most recent book is The Fifth House of the Heart.