Scum, scam and the appropriate places to use them

Published 10:30 am Friday, May 4, 2018

Times, they are a’changing! What with all the talk these days about words that are not to be used in public, one almost needs a handy guide to avoid upsetting another person. Age, gender, and race are some of the conditioners of word choice. There are, however, some words that once were disguised by s______ the first letter and then f______ the rest of the letters of those words.

Today’s Brave (and Sad) New World blithely writes all the letters. Anything goes, either in writing or speaking.

Of late two similar sounding words have abounded on television: scum and scam. The first is more descriptive of unsavory people than the film that forms atop stagnant water. Say “scum” and “scam” one after the other several times, and you may find yourself repeating one before saying the other.

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Which brings us finally to the point of these paragraphs. [Yes, no composition student of mine who began on one topic and suddenly diverted attention to another would pass in my classes!]. Let me tell you about a friend’s misadventure. While it’s not so painful as to prompt a letter to a congressman or so costly as to cost my pal a meal or two, it is, notwithstanding, upsetting.

Several weeks back he started his car to drive to the grocery store. As he was turning it around, a thump, thump, thump got his full attention. Sure enough, the right rear tire was flat as a flitter. [I’ve often pondered over the flatness of flitters and the cause thereof!].

While my buddy is quite capable of driving his nice car, he is not able to loosen the nuts that hold tires on the axles.

Accepting the situation for what it was, he went inside and called a service station and asked for help. Assured that someone would be at his house soon, he started a pot of coffee.

Before the first cup was gulped, a truck appeared and a very pleasant fellow got out. Small talk led them to the flitter flat. The obviously experienced fellow retrieved a portable air-pump and got the tire and car off the concrete. His quick lug wrench soon had the tire lying on its side. His air-pump inflated the rubber and produced a hissing sound, as compressed air escaped the hole. Slipping a short strip of rubber through a hole at the end of what looked like a screwdriver, the helper push it into the hole. The hissing stopped.

Now the point of this narrative.

My friend asked if he should take a check to the service station or give it to the repairman. The handyman said he would take it. My buddy asked whom to make it out to and was about to write in the name of the station when the fellow said to put it in his name. Done and done, and away he goes.

One more footnote: My old buddy stopped by the station to get a receipt which showed a difference of $7 from the amount he had written on the check. The folks at the place didn’t seem bothered by that discrepancy. But I was when George told me about it. It well could have been me.

My analysis of this modest rip-off is that the helper saw an old man and did a number on him. Quite likely he cashed George’s check and turned in $48, though the amount on the check was $55. Not a big take, but multiplied by enough “tips” like that he had a good day at work.

As my hair has lately begun to turn gray, I fear becoming a target for such ploys.

Trying to find an appropriate name for the guy with the tire plug, I suddenly thought that perhaps we have a new class of people: scambags.

T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.