If I had a hammer

21 Feb

Looks like the Bambino really put the good wood on this one:

babestory

At least, I assume that’s what the headline means here. “Carpenters”?

This blog has enthused before about the (now vanished) propensity for American journalism to mass-produce new synonyms. So this – the most famous achievement (home run record) by the most famous player (Babe Ruth) on baseball’s most famous team (1927 Yankees) – might be expected to inspire the New York Daily News to great heights.

And so it proves: the home run record is the “circuit mark”, the record-breaking hit is the “bam”; on the breathless front page (“O, Babe!”), Ruth is “the great G Herman” and the home run a “stupendous swat”, cheered to the echo by “shouting customers” at Yankee Stadium. Inside, a young Paul Gallico, who would later go on to write The Poseidon Adventure, is in awe: “When Ruth conks one it stays conked. Of all the home runs I have seen him hit, only one could be called a high fly, and then it was so doggone high that no outfielder in the world could have snagged it. It went so blinkin’ high that it looked like of those things they drop off the Flatiron building for a publicity stunt.”

The enthusiasm for variation even extends to the main illustration on page 28: seven different portraits of Ruth with different captions, variously describing him as “George Herman Ruth”, “G.H. Ruth”, “George H. Ruth”, “Babe Ruth”, the “Colossus of Clout” and the “Sultan of Swat”.

babecover

But still: “carpentered”? Although I’ve never heard it used as a verb, most dictionaries list it as one. Merriam-Webster’s entry is typical:

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-13-34-29

But those definitions, and certainly number (2), suggest a kind of mundane repetition, or weary prefabrication, that hardly fits the hyperbolic tone of a newspaper “tickled silly” by all the excitement. So what’s the sense? Is it a failed neologism, perhaps meaning something like “to strike great blows with a hammer” or “to drive in the final nail”? Is it a piece of lost 1920s slang that readers would have understood?

Or is it just a slightly ironic way of saying in the headline, “look, he’s done it again“? Perhaps: Marshall Hunt’s match report, on the same page, at one point reads: “The coronation exercises took place tumultuously yesterday afternoon when that most famous of the famous, George Herman Ruth, patterned his 60th home run of the current season in the eighth inning and thereby established another world’s record.”

If so, though, it’s a slightly underwhelming verb to choose for a block caps main headline on a historic day, even if it does help fill out the measure. On balance, I think I prefer “Socko!”

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3 Responses to “If I had a hammer”

  1. Steve Dunham February 21, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

    My guess would be “failed neologism.” Lived in the USA my whole life, beginning in 1953. I don’t recall hearing “carpenter” used this way at all, not even from my parents or grandparents.

    • edlatham February 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

      I’d like to think so too: just don’t think they’d go for a sense as deprecating as that- ‘he knocks out another one as a matter of routine’ – on a story about a big record like that. Unless the sight of Ruth’s homers really had become commonplace by then?

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    […] by chance, while trawling through the New York Daily News archives for last time’s post on baseball, I found two fine examples of one of the strangest phenomena in journalism: the “flying […]

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