When silly pranks go respectable"/>

ESSAY- Webster's wedgies: <span class="s1">When silly pranks go respectable</span>

It's a high water mark for linguistics when a time-honored childhood practice is officially recognized by such an esteemed reference work as Webster's New World College Dictionary. The new edition– which won't be in bookstores until May, so you have plenty of time to sit back, relax, and keep enjoying those wonderful recreations of the Michael Jackson trial on E!– includes the word "wedgie," as in: "noun. a prank in which the victim's undershorts are jerked upward so as to become wedged between the buttocks." Somehow it seemed a lot funnier and less clinical when we did it to Tommy Sackett. Every day. For a month.

It's about time the word was included in the dictionary. After all, "noogie" is. It's "the act of rubbing one's knuckles on a person's head so as to produce a mildly painful sensation." Strangely, Dutch rub and pink belly are nowhere to be found, though to give the benefit of the doubt, they're phrases, so maybe we can let Webster's off the hook.

The editors still deserve a wedgie, though they should get it for being so far behind the times. The dictionary's competitor, Merriam-Webster (motto: "Two proper nouns are better than one"), has been listing "wedgie" for 10 years now. Maybe they're not as conservative about adding new words. Or perhaps they're just more on top of teen slang. Or should I say, down with the kewl lingo. But I suspect the truth is that they're bigger dorks and got so many wedgies during high school they thought they invented the thong and, heeding the advice they received during interminable creative writing classes, wrote what they knew.

You'd think at this point everyone would know what a wedgie is. I mean, exactly who is the person who has to look it up in the dictionary, anyway? Sure if you search Google you might get the impression it's a gardening tool, a clown/magician/educator who lives in Toronto, or a model airplane, but face it, if you have to look online to discover what a wedgie is, you deserve what you get. And you should get a wedgie. Often.

Giving and getting wedgies is pretty universal, though to be honest I have to say I've never been on either the giving or receiving end, this in spite of the Tommy Sackett mention in the first paragraph. I swear I never touched him or his pants. It was the other guys. Honest.

Not that I'm complaining about not getting one. While they seem innocuous enough, they can be the source of a lot of trouble, and I'm not just talking about the need to go to the bathroom to sort yourself out, the years of therapy, or the feeling of dread when your mother does the laundry and you know she's going to ask about the skid marks on your underwear. No, it turns out wedgies can lead to jail.

I didn't discover this by coming across a government-funded study that proves giving wedgies is a gateway crime which leads to robbery, murder, and remaking old TV shows as bad movies. No, the reason I know wedgies can lead to jail is that recently two Chicago teenagers were arrested after having given a 12-year-old boy repeated wedgies that resulted in bruises which required medical attention. Hey, the Chicago police understand that underwear intrusion incidents are no laughing matter. The older teen was charged with misdemeanor battery. The other, a minor, was given three noogies, two Dutch rubs, a pink belly, and a week with the Horse Whisperer.

Yes, the Horse Whisperer. He might actually be able to help the boy. It turns out that Monty Roberts, the man who inspired the movie The Horse Whisperer, has been holding workshops for British teachers showing them how to tame wild schoolchildren by using the same techniques he uses on wild horses. 

"Horses and children are almost identical emotionally and psychologically," Roberts told British newspaper The Observer. "They are both flight animals who wish to avoid trouble, but will become first bashful, then aggressive, if intimidated." He went on to point out other similarities: both horses and children like apples, respond well to whips and spurs, and need someone to clean up after them. Horses, on the other hand, can be sold, are respected if they become studs-for-hire, and are legally eaten in many countries.

If horse whispering can reduce the number of wedgies, then it's a good thing. It might even result in saved lives. A couple of years ago 19-year-old Daniel Strouss of Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, was charged with attempted murder for driving to a friend's house, lying in wait, then shooting his friend in the arm and leg when he got home. It turns out Strouss had been holding a grudge because several months earlier, while at a Phish concert, his friend sneaked up and gave him a wedgie. It's a good thing his friend didn't also give him a noogie or he might not be alive to be embarrassed by the tale today.

So remember, just because a word is in the dictionary doesn't mean it's a good thing to try it. After all, Webster's dictionary also added "irritable bowel syndrome" this year and you don't want that, do you? The good news is that Dutch rub and pink belly aren't in the dictionary, so you can still have plenty of fun.

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©2005 Barry H. Gottlieb All Rights Reserved.

More Mad Dog can be found online at:  www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.