Wednesday, October 04, 2006

TFW: Terribly Foolish Words

Sorry, but I just have to get this off my chest. The TFW spray painted on a huge number of New Orleans houses by the search teams does not stand for "toxic flood water," as claimed here, here, here, here, here, and just about every other blog entry that a college student who spent his or her spring break in the L9 has made. Kids, thanks for coming, really, and please come back. But would you quit it with the Toxic Flood Water talk? Please?

First, it can't mean that. My house didn't flood; none of the houses riverside of mine flooded, and yet TFW is as common as TX-1 on the houses around ours, houses that all remained dry. Either TFW means something close to TX-1 (designation of the military unit making the search, which is where I'll put my money) or the rescuers decided to err on the side of caution and simply label everything in sight as potentially hazardous and uninhabitable. Which seems more likely to you?

Second, it's an especially unlikely abbreviation. It's along the lines of those "Fornicating Under Consent of the King" kind of urban legends, folk etymology taken as fact. "Toxic Flood Water?" Really? Why not just "TW" then? Or "TF"? If the flood water was toxic, then it's redundant to spray it on every single house. As far as I know every house that flooded on a block was pretty much flooded by the same water, toxic or not. And besides, there was already a pretty clear mark on the houses that flooded; no spray-painting necessary to let you know about that, thank you.

I was relieved to see that blogger Matt Robinson offers a much more likely origin, and a CNN correspondent confirms it. I'll admit that neither of these is a definitive explanation or an authoritative source (a key to the markings of our houses would have been a nice addition to the paperwork tacked on our doors when we returned). But they're both a good sight more convincing than Toxic Flood Water. Sheesh.

Okay, I feel better. Sorry I had to do that.

Visited Desire Area this evening. I'll fill you in later.

Oh, and the OED suggests ME. type fuken; others, Dutch, fokken, in case you were wondering.


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