Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled petards
Are you familiar with the expression “hoist on their own petard”?It’s a phrase that some writers love to use – probably because it includes a fancy word (“petard”), so people think it makes them sound smart.Unfortunately, as happens so often with those damnable fancy words, most of the people who use it have no idea what it means – and so they use it incorrectly.Not to get distracted, but “petard” is an old word that means “a small bomb.” And being “hoist on your own petard” means getting blown up by your own bomb. That, by the way, is a bad thing.So … who cares? Good point. Well, that “petard” phrase popped into my mind the other day when I heard two news stories on the radio. One was sadly serious and one was vastly amusing.The sadly serious story was the report that people on the government’s “Terrorist Watch List” are apparently able to legally buy guns.How bizarre that seems in this day and age, when we are all expected to cheerfully surrender a solid slice of our constitutional rights and civil liberties in the War Against Terror.To give just one example: Under the Patriot Act, federal agents can go through the records of libraries and bookstores to see who’s reading dangerous books – and those searches are secret. The librarians and booksellers can’t even reveal that their records have been searched.Meanwhile, the one sacred and inviolable right that remains is the right to buy a gun. Books are dangerous. Guns … well, that’s another matter. Indeed, though the feds do run a check on prospective gun buyers, any results from that check must be discarded immediately and cannot be used for any other purpose.And some of the same people who are so insistent that we must all do whatever we are asked in the War Against Terrorism – Right now! No questions asked! – are equally shrill on the sacred nature of unrestricted buying sprees when it comes to firearms.But now people are actually outraged at the thought that our gun-control laws are so toothless that suspected terrorists can buy assault weapons at their friendly local weapons depot.So … will the gun lovers be “hoist on the petard” of their security obsession? Will they be forced to admit that guns are actually dangerous?Well, for what it’s worth, the most immediate response I heard was someone from the National Rifle Association … questioning the validity of the Terrorist Watch List.Odds are, they’ll just agree to tighten up security by banning books from airplanes. (Except, of course, gun manuals.)OK. My second petard du jour was a story about conversion kits that let people replace the wheels on their SUVs and pickups with tank-like “tracks” – and turn those vehicles into giant snowmobiles.Well – can you believe it? – snowmobilers are reacting with horror. They sputter with outrage. Their wonderful wilderness experience is being defiled by these hideous alien … things!They want the government to step in and ban those monsters!Of course, every argument you’ve ever heard in favor of snowmobiles themselves certainly applies to these new beasties. They provide recreational access to the outdoors for people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the wilderness. Why should those snowmobile elitists be able to interfere with other citizens who want to enjoy federal land?And, of course, these SUVs on tank-tracks are much quieter and churn out much, much less air pollution than snowmobiles.And that brings us full circle, back to “hoist on their own petard.” Because the origin of that fancy word “petard” – and this is true, no fooling – is the Latin word “petar.”And that means – sorry, folks, there’s no way around it – “fart”!So those snowmobilers are, for sure, hoist on their own smelly, stink bomb petards.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. No petards, please!
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