Saturday, May 12, 2012

Evolving Definition of a Term ("Nutjob")

I've seen the term "nutjob" tossed around quite a bit lately. Mostly, I see the term used as some form of insult regarding conservatives:  "Right-Wing Nutjob" or "RWNJ".

Curious about the origins, I did a little research. Actually, it's been a pet project for a few months now. When bored and not inspired to pick up my guitar, read a philosophy or economics book, watch  a movie, tend my bonsai, go hiking, or any of the other hobbies I enjoy, I will pick some topic to research. I have often been nicknamed "the walking encyclopedia". See, I've had this nasty habit of researching trivia since I was a child. It's quite amusing how this "trivia" becomes important knowledge every so often. For example, knowing the proper cooking temperature and folding ("pulling") techniques for making taffy came in quite handy for building rapport with an Iraqi military commander. Knowing the chord progression for "Smoke on the Water" broke the ice with one insurgent detainee, allowing the interrogator to actually glean some information. So, it has come in handy in some circumstances one would never consider such "trivia" useful.

Combining one hobby concerning the etymology of words, phrases, and jargon with an interest in obscure military facts and history led to a rather amusing thread of research:  the term "nutjob".

Today, many so-called experts on slang will attempt to tell you that a "nutjob" is when somebody stimulates you, sexually, to climax. The "nut" part is the ejaculation, the "job" being the act leading to it. However, the term "nutjob" predates the slang use of "nut" as a euphemism for semen. That term actually derives from the slang use of "nut" as a testicle. That is another misnomer on the meaning of "nutjob". Some will try to tell you it is manual or oral stimulation of the testicles and scrotum.

One thing many agree upon is that the term "nutjob" refers to somebody who is a little "off". It is a slang term for somebody who is not to be taken seriously because their ideas are a little unfounded. Here we do get a little closer to the origin of the term.

In World War One (WWI), the US Army Air Corps sent aviators to Europe. The planes in those days were much more rickety and far less sophisticated than today's aircraft. In fact, until timing chains were employed with the machine guns, pilots and/or gunners often shot off their own propellers. These aircraft had few instruments, sometimes not even a working fuel gauge. The better pilots learned the "feel" of their aircraft and the responsiveness through contact forces between their bodies and the aircraft. Hence you have the derivation of the phrase "by the seat of your pants".

These pilots were already a bit brazen. Many of them were extreme adrenaline junkies. In the thick of an air battle, many would land, refuel, and get back in the air as fast as possible.

Ground crews and mechanics knew the benefits of regular maintenance in keeping the planes flying. These Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS) were considered necessary between flights and often during refueling periods during brief landings. Sometimes the mechanics would want to ground the plane to fix something that could end up being a larger problem. Remember, these aircraft were a lot more rickety than today's jets. The vibrations of the engine, the guns, and the forces at work producing lift and torque often caused screws, nuts, and bolts to loosen.

So when the pilots landed to refuel, the mechanics would run out to check over the planes while they were refueling. If they noticed something, the amped-up pilots impatient to get back into battle would tell the mechanics to "just give her a nutjob", meaning to tighten down loose nuts and bolts, tape up holes, and get the plane ready to fly with the least work necessary. Sometimes this meant delaying work on more serious problems that could cause the aircraft to fail in the middle of the battle.

Of course, this led to many planes flying and landing "on a wing and a prayer", another term dating back to WWI.

Soon, the mechanics started using the term "nutjob" to refer to the adrenaline-junkie pilots who would do a "slam and scram" and order that minimal maintenance. So, these pilots would often go back into the fray with at least a "loose screw". Sometimes they would be in such a rush, they'd tell the mechanics to forgo the "nutjob" and would would themselves become the "nutjobs" flying with a "screw loose".

So a "nutjob" is either, in reality, a hasty bit of work, just enough to start a project without full preparation; or it is somebody crazy enough to accept taking a few unnecessary risks in order to attempt to accomplish a mission/task.

Taking into account the origin of the term "nutjob", one can only assume that the true meaning of a "right-wing" or "left-wing" "nutjob" is one that has the nuts and bolts tightened on that given wing. So, a "right-wing nutjob" (RWNJ) is somebody who has at least some facts from the right side of the political spectrum tightened down, well. However, that would mean that the "left-wing" has a few "screws loose".

The same applies the other way. I have no "screws loose", so I avoid calling somebody on the totalitarian-oligarchy-minded left-wing a "nutjob".

One final thought, kids:  the one who laugh last was too clueless to get the joke.