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The Truth, Mainly - 02/13/1995

Reptile remnant source of boy talk

Has anyone else noticed how girl columnists seem to be more upset than boy columnists about the way Republican congressmen talk? You know the talk I mean:

• Newt Gingrich's mama tells Connie Chung that the new Speaker called Hillary a "bitch."

• Bob Dornan says President Clinton was a traitor for "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" when he didn't go along with the Vietnam War. Even House Republicans ask Rep. Dornan to please sit down and be quiet.

• And the new House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, refers to his out-of-the-closet fellow congressman, Barney Frank, as "Barney Fag." He apologizes and says it was a slip of the tongue: "I had trouble with alliteration. I was stumbling, mumbling. . . ."

I don't get full of righteous indignation about any of that. It's because I'm a boy, and I know how boys talk.

But to listen to the girl newspaper columnists, you'd think boy talk is inappropriate coming from our congressmen.

Barbara Roessner writes that "Barney Fag" is a "devastatingly revealing" Freudian slip in which Rep. Armey achieves "an apex of honesty to which few politicians ever come close"—the disclosure of rampant homophobia.

Molly Ivins, to show what such talk might sound like if it were turned on the new Speaker, refers to "the draft-dodging, dope-smoking, wife-divorcing, deadbeat-dad Newt Gingrich." She admits it's "strong speech," but it "meets all the standards of accuracy set by Limbaugh."

And Ellen Goodman says what we've got here are examples of "Political Tourette's Syndrome. . . , that unfortunate neurological disease whose symptoms may include, among other things, involuntary swearing." So, she says, we have "whole minutes, hours, weeks of responsible speak punctuated by volcanic verbal eruptions—Bitch! Fag!—followed by the passionate denial of people who couldn't help themselves."

Well, boys can have theories too. My theory is that these girl columnists didn't spend enough time in boys' locker rooms when they were growing up. If they had, they'd know that the Bubbatalk they're objecting to is the native tongue of males, and no more to be scorned than anybody else's native tongue.

I'm so excited about my theory, I tell my wife.

"They're just good old boys," I say. "Just like Billy Bob Busby back home. He'd always say the funniest things. Laugh, I thought I'd die. Like when somebody sneezed in the lockerroom and didn't have a hanky and Billy Bob said 'It looks like honey but it's not.' Get it? 'It's not' sounds just like 'it's snot' and ol' Billy Bob knew it. Why he said it everytime anyone sneezed and we all laughed so hard we'd have wet our pants if we'd had any on. Ol' Billy Bob. What a funny guy."

The Truth, Mainly


She gives me a look.

"Heh heh?" she says. "That's funny? Snot's funny?"

"You had to be there," I say. "Anyway, he didn't mean any harm. It was just Bubbatalk. And Bubbatalk's what Gingrich and Armey and Dornan were doing. No need for the girl columnists to get bent out of shape by it."

"Bubba, schmubba," she says. "Your theory doesn't explain anything. They talk that way because of what's inside their heads. Or what isn't. Girls notice dumb language more than boys because girls have a more highly developed cingulate gyrus."

Usually I like it when she talks dirty, but I'm wary this time.

"Hah?" I say. "What's a cingulate gyrus?"

She gives me an AP clipping her mother has sent. "Show him this " is scrawled across the top.

It says that the cingulate gyrus is a newly evolved part of the brain that allows girls to deal "with more refined, symbolic means of emotional expression." But in boys the cingulate gyrus is pretty inactive, so their emotional expression still has to be routed through a part of the brain left over "from the era in evolution when reptiles flourished." And no one, researchers say, would expect reptiles "to contemplate a situation before lashing out."

"That explains," my wife says, "why those congressmen talk that way. It explains why you and most other males don't see anything wrong with it. And it explains why Newt Gingrich is decorating his new office with a $5,000 replica of a dinosaur head."

She thrusts another AP clipping at me. The headline reads "House speaker to get dinosaur head for office." There's not even an exclamation point.

"He's a Newt who wants to be a Tyrannosaurus rex," she says. "The reptile part of his brain is asserting itself. Evolution is destiny."

"Supersilly pseudoscience," I try to say, but I have trouble with the alliteration. All I do is make hissing noises. I feel suddenly very old and tired so I lie down for a little nap. I dream of meteorites crashing. I look for a tar pit to hide in. I find one. I tell Newt and Bob and Dick to move over, to make room.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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