03 August 2009

Expressions Found in Cartoons: The “Beer” Summit and the Race Card

Cartoon by Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic published on 28 July 2009.

This political cartoon of course concerns the incident recently took place between the Cambridge, Massachusetts police force and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, a friend of President Obama. The situation became big news when Obama accused the police of acting “stupidly.” The president invited both Gates and the arresting officer to the White House the other day to talk over a beer.

This political cartoon is rich in some common idiomatic expressions:

1. suds – a lot of small bubbles such as on soap or beer. In the cartoon critical of the president, you see the expression of “suds over substance.” This is a play on words of “style over substance.” Critics of Obama accuse him of having style over substance. In other words, he is criticized on how he presents arguments while ignoring the actual content of the argument. For example, in this situation racism was charged as a problem simply because the arresting officer is white and Gates is black but racism had nothing to do with the arrest! The real situation was completely ignored in order to charge the police with racism.

2. Yo, bro! – an expression of greeting or surprise that began in the African-American community and is now commonly used by all communities. Literally it means, “hello brother.”

3. What’s happenin’? – This is the American version of “Quoi de neuf?”

4. Chill out! – You would say this to someone to mean “relax” or “calm down.”

5. a brewski – This very common slang term come from the word “brew” and simply means a beer. It dates back to the early 1980’s and no one knows for sure why '-ski’ was added to the word “brew” to make it sound Russian or Polish except that it sounds fun to say. When beer is made, it is brewed by cooking water, malt and hops (le houblon) . When we make coffee, we brew it by adding hot water to the coffee grounds (la mouture).

6. on the house – If you are in a bar, café or restaurant and the waiter tells you that something he or she  served you is “on the house,” they are offering whatever it is to you for free! The establishment (or the house) is paying for it.

7. to get hold of – This verbal phrase means to talk to manage to talk to someone on the telephone or directly. You might say, “Why didn’t you answer your cell phone? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day!” 

Cartoon by Brian Fairrington of caglecartoons.com published on 30 July 2009. 

In this political cartoon, Mr. Fairrington wants to say that the Cambridge Police Force in Massachusetts was a victim of the race card. It is often used in the expression (British and American) ‘to play the race card.’ Wikipedia describes the expression:

Playing the race card is an idiomatic phrase that refers to the act of bringing the issue of race or racism into a debate, perhaps to obfuscate (obscurcir) the matter. It is a metaphorical reference to card games in which a trump card (un atout) may be used to gain an advantage.

From The Phrase Finder:

To attempt to gain advantage in an election by pandering (encourager bassement qn) to the electorate's racism. Also, more recently, to attempt (by a black person) to gain advantage by accusing another (usually a white person) of racism.

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